Tag Archives: Ideas

On Living Icons

The Orthodox Christian Faith is enriched by icons. We surrounded ourselves with these prayerfully-written images of Christ, the Theotokos, and the saints. Our churches are full of icons, as are our homes. This is as it should be. In our modern self-focused culture, we need visual reminders of God’s work in and through the saints! These reminders in the form of icons challenge us to be strong and live a life accordingly faithful.

There are other icons that enrich our Faith as well. God has surrounded us with His hand-written images of Christ in the form of every person around us. Our churches are full of them, as are our homes. But He has not limited His handwritten icons to the Church. They are all around us. If you are like me, occasionally you may need a reminder that everyone – EVERYONE – is an icon of Christ, written by God Himself, in His image. May this short post remind us of that truth. So, that sweet lady at Church? Yes, she is an icon of Christ. The person who just cut me off when driving? An icon. The persistent child interrupting my phone conversation? An icon. That person who I struggle to love? An icon. The famous person everyone gossips about? An icon. Those people who live far away and very differently from me? They, too, are an icon. My spouse? Also an icon, written in the image of (and by the Hand of) God.


Whether or not we recognize His artistry, God has written (and is writing) each and every person. Therefore, we must remember that He is at work in and through them, then respond with the love and respect that we offer any other icon reflecting His image. When we choose to see His work in each person, we will be challenged by them to be strong and live our Christian life faithfully!  

We must be careful to note that this recognition of God’s work in writing the living icons around us must not be limited to noting it in other people. In truth, we ourselves are living icons, and should also be enriching the Church and our world. In order to be the most reflective image of Him that we can be, we need to cooperate with Him as he works in and through us. As we do so, He will strengthen us and give us what we need to live the faithful Christian life befitting an icon.

May God help us all to live and love His image in every person! And as we do so, may we teach our Sunday Church School children to do the same.

 

Here are some resources that can help us teach our students how to be more aware of the icons of Christ around us; while challenging ourselves to be the best icons of Christ that we can:

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Here is an excellent activity that you can do with a younger-grades class which will help them to review the symbolism in iconography and then apply it to a contemporary icon-like drawing of a living icon who they know. Find the activity, symbolic descriptions, and a link to the printable page the students can use for their drawing here:  http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2008/07/living-icons.html

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Teachers of younger grades may be able to adapt parts of this (non-Orthodox) activity-filled lesson on being made in God’s image: https://www.umcmission.org/ArticleDocuments/150/book2part2lesson5.pdf.aspx
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Talk with your students about this quote by St. John of Damascus: “The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God.”
If we truly believe this, how does that affect our view and treatment of others? Of ourselves? Of the world itself?

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Share this quote to begin a discussion with a teen or adult class:

“Every one of us is in the image of God, and every one of us is like a damaged icon. But if we were given an icon damaged by time, damaged by circumstances, or desecrated by human hatred, we would treat it with reverence, with tenderness, with broken-heartedness. We would not pay attention primarily to the fact that it is damaged, but to the tragedy of its being damaged. We would concentrate on what is left of its beauty, and not on what is lost of its beauty. And this is what we must learn to do with regard to each person as an individual, but also – and this is not always as easy – with regard to groups of people, whether it be a parish or a denomination, or a nation. We must learn to look, and look until we have seen the underlying beauty of this group of people. Only then can we even begin to do something to call out all the beauty that is there. Listen to other people, and whenever you discern something which sounds true, which is a revelation of harmony and beauty, emphasize it and help it to flower. Strengthen it and encourage it to live.” – Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

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“To be an Orthodox Christian means to proclaim that God has a very special love for us. Our life was given to us a very a sacred gift so that we may grow to fulfill our destiny as His children, to fulfill His plan that He has had for us since before we were even born. We are called to be “living icons,” temples of the Holy Spirit, and members of the Kingdom of Heaven. We must come to value life for the precious gift from God that it is, and make our choices on that basis.” These are the concluding thoughts of a lesson. This lesson (which includes a variety of activities and suggested discussion questions) could be used for a Sunday Church School or for a retreat on the importance of valuing life and living as an icon. https://oca.org/the-hub/life-and-death/session-1-the-living-icon-the-sanctity-of-human-life

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Listen to this 7 minute sermon from Fr. Ted Paraskevopoulos with your teen/adult Sunday Church School class to receive an overhaul on your perspective of yourself (and others), the icon(s) of Christ: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/isermon/orthodox_anthropology

 

 

On Pursuing Virtue: Diligence

This is part of a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that 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 last virtue we will focus on in this series is diligence. Merriam-Webster defines diligence as “steady, earnest, and energetic effort.” St. Theophan the Recluse helps us to understand diligence in the context of our Orthodox faith: “Our entire lives, in all their parts and details, must be devoted to God. The general rule is that everything you do should be done according to the Divine will and for the sake of pleasing God …Although [our] acts are not brilliant or perfect, [we] permit nothing consciously in them that would offend God or would not be pleasing to Him.” He goes on to say that when we choose to live in this way, our hearts will be filled with peace and joy because we will be living close to God. It is this definition of diligence that we should communicate to our Sunday Church School students: the deliberate decision to make everything that we do honor God, and the determination to carry out that decision to the best of our ability. (We should emphasize that we will not be perfect as we do this, but that our efforts will be pleasing to God and helpful to those around us, anyway!)

To introduce this virtue to your students, begin by having the word “diligence” spelled out with honey sticks (plastic straws with honey sealed inside, available online or at some grocery stores). Place the word somewhere in the classroom where the students will see it when they arrive at class (for example, down the middle of the table if you meet around a large table). The students will be curious about the honey sticks, so the discussion can begin almost immediately. Have them figure out what the word says, then begin talking about what it means. Allow the students who want to, to eat a honey stick as you talk about bees and their diligence to make the honey being consumed. (Each stick contains about one teaspoon of honey. It took 12 bees their entire lifetime – 6 weeks – to make that one honey stick. Bees visited more than 31,000 flowers to make each one of these honey sticks.) Talk about how hard the bees worked, and how diligent they are. Define diligence for the students, or have them concoct a definition together.

After talking about the definition of diligence with your students, help them learn about this important virtue by sharing stories with them that emphasize or model diligence. Stories teach in a way that is engaging, but also practical, for they demonstrate the application of the virtue in a way that mere definition cannot. There are many kinds of stories that would work for teaching about diligence. Saints’ stories are an excellent resource: their diligence in following God is what helped them to become a saint! There are also many stories in the scriptures that would help. (The story of Joseph is an excellent example!)

Folk tales offer another opportunity for us to teach children about diligence. Many cultures highly value diligence and thus have folktales to help communicate this virtue. “Give Up, Gecko!” by Margaret Read MacDonald (2013) is an excellent example. This Ugandan folktale tells the tale of many thirsty animals trying to make a hole deep enough to reach water during a drought. All the big animals try and quit when they do not succeed. Finally little gecko has a turn to try. Gecko is tempted to quit, too, especially when everyone laughs at him, but he is determined to provide water, and perseveres… and he succeeds! Read the story aloud to your students, or assign them roles and have them act it out as you read, with everyone chanting along with the animals as they stomp while attempting to create the water hole. Regardless of how you share the story, after it is over, discuss diligence. Ask questions like: “Who in the story demonstrated diligence? How did they do so? What can we learn about diligence from this story? What can we apply to our own life? Why is diligence important to our Orthodox Christian life?”

After teaching your students about diligence and citing an example (or more), invite your students to respond artistically to their learning. Extend the learning by selecting an art form that requires them to practice diligence. For example, a mosaic! Provide each student with a sturdy piece of cardstock (or cardboard) for the base of their piece and small tiles (pieces of paper, adhesive foam, or even tiny glass or ceramic tiles). On the cardstock, your students can sketch their design of something that reminds them of diligence, or even the word itself with a pencil. Then they can fill in the color using the tiles, carefully adhering the pieces inside the sketched space to create the final image. This project will require the students to work diligently to complete it, and thus makes an excellent example of what diligence is (as well as an opportunity to figure out how tedious it can be for us) with the opportunity to experience a beautiful reward (the finished project) at the end. You may want to display all of the projects in a place where the whole parish can see and enjoy them, when they are finally finished!

Whether we follow the above suggestions or come up with a lesson plan of our own, let us be sure to teach our students about diligence. It is a virtue that is much easier to teach about than it is to truly learn and apply! But it is much needed, in order that all of the other virtues can be better attained. So, it is important that we (diligently!) work to help our Sunday Church School students learn about this virtue.

Here are other resources that can help you to plan a lesson on diligence:

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Here is a preschool lesson (non-Orthodox, but still quite helpful) on diligence: https://preschooljoy.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/diligence-lesson-1/
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Here’s a simple lesson plan on diligence that can be used with young children. It features a discussion of the story of the ants and the grasshopper, and even offers a fingerprint craft idea! It’s not Orthodox, and is written for parents to use with their children, but could easily used in a Sunday Church School context: http://meaningfulmama.com/teaching-diligence-with-the-ant-and-the-grasshopper.html

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This secular character-education article about diligence offers some books that can be read at various ages, as well as suggestions from nature, biographies, etc. that can enhance a discussion of diligence:  http://classroom.synonym.com/childrens-lessons-diligence-vs-laziness-12134203.html

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Here is another (secular) list of books that can be used in a discussion of diligence: http://pacecommunity.org/diligence-a-list-for-young-readers-2/

And here is a list by a Christian blogger: http://meaningfulmama.com/books-diligence.html

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Practice diligence with your students by giving them some problem-solving opportunities. This (Christian, but not Orthodox) blog post offers suggestions that can spark further ideas: http://meaningfulmama.com/day-125-diligence-in-problem-solving.html

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This (Christian but not Orthodox) lesson on diligence features the story of Ruth from the Bible. http://howtohomeschoolmychild.com/we-choose-virtues-learning-to-be-diligent/
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This blog post is aimed at helping your own children learn about diligence. Although it is not Orthodox, it contains many great ideas for teaching children about diligence. We especially liked the challenge ideas offered here; as they give children a fun way to practice their diligence! https://www.steadfastfamily.com/hero-training-kids-character-challenge-diligence-week-5/

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Consider including this self-evaluating diligence survey in a lesson with teens: http://www.performwell.org/index.php/find-surveyassessments/outcomes/social-development/life-skills/diligence-scale-for-teenagers#popup. After completing the survey, discuss diligence and how the teens intend to improve their score over time. (It may be beneficial to have them take the survey again at a later date, for a check-up!)

On Pursuing Virtue: Temperance

This is part of a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that 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!

One way that we can teach our Sunday Church School children about temperance is to help them think about gluttony, the sin that stands opposed to temperance. Some children may be unfamiliar with the term “gluttony.” We can explain it as “making a habit of doing something (ie: eating or drinking) too much. Then, we should trade some stories of gluttony as we’ve experienced it. Most of us have had an experience where we did something in excess and can remember how we felt afterwards. Consider sharing an example from your own life to get the conversation started.

For example, if I were teaching this lesson, I’d begin by placing large bowl of white icing sitting where all of the students in my class could see it. Then I’d tell this story: when I was a child I loved icing. One day in first grade, I was at my friend’s house, playing, while her mother frosted a cake with white icing. We both wanted some, so when she had the cake frosted, she gave us the bowl and beaters, covered in frosting. Mmm! It was delicious and we ate and ate and ate, much more than we should have. Not long afterwards, I began to feel sick in my stomach. Thankfully, that feeling subsided with time, but for years afterwards, even the thought of white icing made me feel nauseous. I can now eat it again, but I know better than to eat a lot of it! Any time that we eat or do too much of something, that is called “excess.” Describe a time when you did something in excess. Maybe you ate so much you felt sick, ran so hard you overexerted yourself, watched tv for so long your brain felt weird, or got so many presents that you didn’t know which one to play with first. (Take time to allow anyone to share who wishes to.) All of those are examples of excess. Too much of anything (except Faith, Hope, and Love) is not good for us or for the people around us.

So, what can we do that IS good for us? We can work on temperance in our life. What is temperance? (Help the students define it; look it up in the dictionary if needed.) Temperance is not overdoing things. Temperance is having self control, knowing when to stop; realizing what amount is enough. St. Basil once said, “Nothing subdues and controls the body as does the practice of temperance. It is this temperance that serves as a control to those youthful passions and desires.” So, temperance is what controls our body and helps us to do what is right! Because we are Christians, we want to do what is right as we serve God, and temperance can help us to grow closer to God. So, not only is temperance in all things better for us (our body, our soul, and our spirit); it also helps us get closer to God!

Take time for each person who shared a story to share again. This time, have them share one sentence about temperance that, had they followed it, they would not have struggled with excess in that area. For example, “Temperance is licking one beater of white icing and saving the extra in the bowl to share with someone else or to eat later.”After everyone has had a chance to share their sentence, invite students to respond to the prompt “temperance is…” on a piece of paper. They can write a poem, draw a word web, sketch a picture, tell their story with a new ending, etc.

Older children may enjoy breaking into smaller groups and creating little stories or skits of their own to illustrate temperance. They can write or orally tell the stories. Allow enough time for the creation, writing/rehearsal, and performance of each story.

At this point in the lesson, I’d point to the bowl of icing which I had set before the class, and ask, “So back to the icing. Is this icing bad? No! Is eating it bad? No! Is eating all of it by myself bad? Yes, that would be gluttony (and I’d probably get sick again and maybe never want to eat white icing again for decades)! But what if I share it?” and then I’d offer to share a little of it with any student who wants a little of it, either on a cupcake or on a saltine. Unless the class is very large, we would not eat all of it. But that’s okay: we are illustrating temperance, so we will taste the icing, but not eat it in excess. That’s the way temperance works.

Close with prayer, asking God for help with pursuing temperance in all areas of our lives.

Here are some other ideas of ways to help our students learn temperance and its close relative, self-control:

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Although this pdf was not written from an Orthodox perspective and is intended as a take-home letter, it can be a good resource for Sunday Church School teachers desiring to teach their students about temperance. Temperance is defined in an easy-to-understand way, and many practical applications/real-life scenarios are included in the discussion. http://saintjamesacademy.com/images/BlogStuff/03012017/temperance.pdf

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This lesson plan is not written from an Orthodox perspective, but has many good ideas that can be used to help teach children about the self-control aspect of temperance: http://ministry-to-children.com/self-control-lesson-plan/

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“We want their hearts to understand why self control is so important, and I think literature can really aid in this conversation. It is not a lecture from you. It is a story that brings truth to light. As we try and navigate raising our kids in a world that glorifies and abuses freedom and rebellion, we need to teach them what real freedom means. We do have the choice to sin or obey, but we need to teach about the freedom that comes as we submit to God’s ways. He sets his ideals for self-control so as it make our lives better.” Read this (not Orthodox, but quite helpful) blog post about children’s books that can help teach temperance/self control: http://meaningfulmama.com/books-self-control.html

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This lesson is intended for families to use together. While it is not written from an Orthodox perspective, most of it applies to Orthodox Christians and could be used in the Sunday Church School classroom (especially the scenarios and discussions in the lesson pdf) or sent home for use as a resource for families to extend a lesson on temperance/self-control. http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/self-control

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“The word temperance in the KJV conveys this idea of self-control and more. Unfortunately, it is usually now associated only with abstinence from alcohol or other intoxicants. The Greek word is best translated by the word “mastery” which indicates full control over self and the things which one may desire. There are numerous examples of men exhibiting heroic self-control in the Bible.” The article (non-Orthodox, but very useful in helping teens understand temperance) continues by examining the lives of Joseph, the 3 Hebrew youths, and Christ Himself. Teens would benefit by looking up and discussing all of the scripture passages presented in this article. Find it here: http://www.bibletalk.net/articles/self-control.html

On Pursuing Virtue: Chastity

This is part of a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that 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!

How can we possibly teach our Sunday Church School students about chastity? The word itself has connotations that can be awkward to discuss in Sunday Church School! Yet it is an important virtue, that we all – our students included – must pursue! If we dig into the word a little deeper than its one definition of sexual purity, we find that it is so much more than that. We need to help our students learn about all of the definitions of chastity!

We may need to begin by identifying the actual meaning of the word chastity. Merriam Webster.com has a great “student” definition of the word: “the quality or state of being pure in thought and act.” This definition is quite Sunday-Church-School-friendly! Such purity is a lofty pursuit, but it is how we should live our lives as Orthodox Christians! We must find a way to teach our students to live in this way!

So, how can we teach our students to be pure in thought and act? St. John Chrysostom suggests teaching the Psalms to children as part of leading them toward chastity. “Teach him to sing those psalms which are so full of love of wisdom; as at once concerning chastity or rather, before all, of not companying with the wicked, …of companying the good, (and these subjects thou wilt find there in abundance,) of restraining the belly, of restraining the hand, of refraining from excess, of not overreaching; that money is nothing nor glory, and other things such like. …When in these thou hast led him on from childhood, by little and little thou wilt lead him forward even to the higher things.”

So, let us consider using an object lesson with our students based on St. John’s words of wisdom. For this lesson, we will need a clear quart jar, an electric candle, a variety of items that relate to St. John’s quote (see below), and either the Psalter or a Bible with certain Psalms marked for reading.

Begin your class with a discussion of what the students think chastity is. Write the word on the board or a large piece of paper, where everyone can see it. After a brief discussion, introduce the Merriam-Webster definition mentioned above and discuss what that means. Then tell your students you have a little demonstration that may help them see what it means to be chaste. We will base this demonstration on St. John Chrysostom’s quote mentioned above.

Set up the candle, and turn it on. Tell the students that this candle represents God’s light. Cover the candle with the clear quart jar. This jar represents each of us: we are, by God’s grace, created to be a dwelling place for the Light of Christ. Turn off the lights in the room if possible and note how the light shines through the clear jar. This is the kind of purity in which we should live! This is our goal, how we were created to be living.

Turn the lights back on, and then talk about what happens to all of us in life: how we embrace other things, making them more important to us than God is, and demonstrate the effect of those choices in this way, using St. John Chrysostom’s words as a guide. (Remember, his statement tells us how to teach children to live chastely, and we want to demonstrate the effects of the opposite, so we will demonstrate the effect of the OPPOSITE of his words):

“not companying with the wicked” – if we keep company with others who do not follow or love God, and make them so important in our life that we do not love God or serve Him as we should, it will block some of the Light in our life (demonstrate by putting some magazine pictures of movie or sports stars, mounted on dark paper for added light-blocking, into the jar around the light)

“restraining the belly” – if we eat too much or make food or other bodily pleasures gods in our life, our purity will be affected (demonstrate by adding some small plastic toy foods or magazine pictures of foods into the jar)

“restraining the hand” – if we do things that we are not supposed to be doing, we will not be chaste (add words like “hate,” “steal,” “hurt others,” etc., written on pieces of black paper with a gel pen)

“refraining from excess” – if we gather too much stuff that we don’t need or spend our time or money on unnecessary things, we lose some of our purity (add to the jar small toys including a car, a small animal, a small doll, anything that will represent things kids and adults may gather in unnecessary excess)

“not overreaching” – overreaching is defined by Merriam-Webster as “to get the better of, especially in dealing and bargaining and typically by unscrupulous or crafty methods”. Demonstrate this by adding words like “lie,” “cheat,” and “being unfair,” also written on dark paper. (You could also stuff in some cards or other game pieces or other things that represent ways kids would be tempted to overreach.)

“money is nothing nor glory” – things that our culture celebrates and reaches to attain, such as money and glory, cloud our purity as we pursue them. Demonstrate this by stuffing money, sunglasses and/or jewelry into the jar.
“other things” – What have we missed that we have not yet demonstrated, which also destroy our purity? Add small items that represent other things, if you can… the jar is probably pretty full by now!

Now look together at the jar. How nicely is the light shining through? Turn off the lights again and talk about how much the light inside the jar is able to show through all of this stuff. This demonstrates how the Light of Christ is stifled inside of us when we crowd our lives with this other stuff, when we do not live a chaste life.

Then, have students read a verse from the Psalms that talks about purity/chastity. As they read, remove some items from the jar. Along the way, talk about the fact that you are demonstrating how, if we repent and live in chastity as suggested in the Psalms, Christ’s light can shine through us into the world.

Here are a few Psalms that could be included in the ones your students read (mark the verses in the Psalter or Bible; or print and share them):

Psalm 24:3-4
Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully.

Psalm 51:6
Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.

Psalm 51:7
Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Psalm 51:10

Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 73:1
Surely God is good to Israel, To those who are pure in heart!
Psalm 119:9
How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.

Return to the word “chastity” written on the board or the piece of paper. Ask again what it means. Together as a class, make an official class definition and write it with the word. Then brainstorm ways to live a chaste life and write them around the word. Before dismissing, pray and ask God to help each of you clear out the things that are keeping you from being a clear, pure “jar” through which the Light of Christ can shine.

Craft idea: provide each student with a baby food jar or pint jar and a battery-operated tea light to remind them of this lesson. Invite the students to use permanent marker or glass markers and write one of the Psalms or draw ways to live a chaste life (from your class list) on the glass of their jar. When they turn on the tea light and place it inside the jar, it will light up their room and also remind them of how to live as they should, so that Christ’s light can shine through them into the world around them!

Here are other ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn about chastity:

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Find a story about chastity from St. Barsinuphius of Optina, as well as other things such as the prayer of a single person, so that you can share them with your Sunday Church School students here: https://www.scribd.com/document/19435690/Orthodox-Christians-On-Virtue

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This object lesson on purity is not written from an Orthodox perspective, but could slightly adapted for use in a Sunday Church School classroom to demonstrate how we can live a pure life when connected to Christ (and His church) instead of filling our lives with impurity. (Note: as Orthodox Christians, we have the Scriptures as mentioned as a help, but we also have prayers, confession, communion, the prayers of the saints on our behalf, and so much more to help us become more pure as we connect to God!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yl_892f2Ffc

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Teachers of teens may want to spend a great deal of time on the virtue of chastity.  One way to do so would be to post this statement in your Sunday Church School classroom as a discussion starter: “Chastity means being faithful to God first, in both soul and body.” Go on to read this SOYO document (or portions thereof) about chastity and purity: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/2011_pvc_packet.pdf

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Chastity is the virtue we struggle towards as we combat lusts of all sorts. We can learn so much from the lives of saints who have successfully fought against lust. Here are four whose lives we can study and emulate together with our students, while asking for the saints’ prayers: http://www.ocf.net/four-saints-who-struggled-with-lust/

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A powerful tool we can offer to our students for them to use in their pursuit of chastity is prayer. These prayers of the church, specifically for chastity, will help our students (and us!). Print copies of one or more of these prayers in a small size. Pray them together as a class. Encourage each student to select the one that best resonates with them, and provide supplies so that they can craft a bookmark or fridge/locker featuring the small prayer. Encourage them to place the bookmark or magnet in a place where they will see it frequently and remember to pray the prayer as part of their pursuit of the virtue of chastity. http://www.saintgregoryoutreach.org/2010/01/prayers-for-purity.html

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On Pursuing Virtue: Liberality

This is part of a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that 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!

For children (and for adults as well, if we are honest about it!) one of the best ways to learn a concept is through story. To help your students learn about liberality (or generosity), we would recommend that you select a story to read or tell to your students them. Select a story which will invite a discussion on generosity, its value, and how important it is that we Orthodox Christians live generous lives, and share it with your students.

A favorite story of ours is “The Apple Dumpling,” a folktale from England. The protagonist is hungry for an apple dumpling but has no apples with which to make one. She sets out with a basketful of what she does have, plums, hoping to trade with someone who has apples. She makes many new friends along the way, and does indeed get rid of her plums… but she does not exchange the plums for apples! Throughout her journey, she meets people with needs and desires that she has the opportunity to grant and immediately does so, without thinking about herself. (When we’ve told this story before, we have done so by memory, pulling things out of a cloth-covered basket: first, two plums, then a bag of feathers, a bouquet of flowers, a golden necklace, a stuffed puppy, and – of course – an apple. This method of storytelling helps the teller remember what comes next because they can feel it inside the basket. It also piques the children’s interest because things just keep coming out of that basket!!! ) Find a version of the story here: https://www.storiestogrowby.org/story/apple-dumpling/

This story could be used effectively with Sunday Church School students of many ages. For younger children, the story speaks for itself and a small discussion on how kind the lady was to give away her things is how God wants us to be could follow the story. For older students, this story opens the opportunity for a more in-depth discussion: Did the lady always know that she would get something back? Did that hinder her giving? How did she feel along the way? If the story stopped before it does, would she have been content? Why/why not? How generous was this woman? If she were living today in this way, would her actions be pleasing to God? Why/why not?

Brainstorm with your students and make a community list of ways that they, like the woman, can share what they have (ie: give something of theirs to a sibling or friend who would really enjoy it; be generous with smiles, hugs, or greetings to others; share unneeded toys or clothes with those in need – for example, take them to a shelter). Remind them that true generosity, the way God wants us all to live, expects nothing in return. Encourage the students to be truly generous.

If there is still time in the class period, consider making apple dumplings or a related craft (painted wooden apple pins or decorated wooden apple paperweights?) that the students can take and share with someone when class is finished. (If you do the apple dumplings, they’ll need to wrap them in a piece of foil and take directions so the recipient can bake their apple dumpling when they get home, since you likely will not have time to do so in class.) Encourage the students to think of someone that may need this item: not just a favorite friend or family member, but maybe someone else in the parish, a neighbor, etc. And when they give the gift, encourage them to do so without expecting anything in return. Challenge them to remember two things after giving the gift: to thank God for the opportunity and resources to give the gift, and to say a prayer that God will continue to bless the recipient.

There are many, many other ways to teach children generosity. Here are a few of them:

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This lesson plan can offer some ideas that could be used to teach Sunday Church School students about generosity. The lesson is written for Christian parents to use, and is not written from an Orthodox perspective, but has many useful parts that teachers can easily use to teach Orthodox Christian children about generosity. You will find many verses that could be used for Bible memory, some story suggestions from the Scriptures, craft ideas, hands-on ways to practice generosity together, and various discussion starters here: http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/sites/default/files/Generosity-PC-2015-best.pdf

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This blog post is not religiously-affiliated, but contains ideas of books to read and activities that can be done with children who are learning about generosity: http://alldonemonkey.com/2015/03/12/teaching-kids-about-generosity/

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If your Sunday Church School students studied St. Maria of Paris (learn more about her here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/11/04/saints-of-recent-decades-st-maria-of-paris-july-20-or-august-2/ ), they may be interested to read about how this parish, inspired by her and determined to be more generous with their community, started a ministry to their neighborhood. http://everygoodandperfectgift.org/st-marias-table/#more-1039

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“I would give all the wealth of Ireland away to the poor to serve the King of Heaven.” ~ St. Brigid of Kildare
Teach your students about St. Brigid of Kildare, who was known for her generosity. This book could be the basis of a lesson on St. Brigid and her generosity: http://www.janegmeyer.com/books/the-life-of-st-brigid/ and this page can offer information as well: http://myocn.net/generosity-saint-brigid/

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Show this short video to older Sunday Church School students to begin your discussion of generosity: http://myocn.net/widows-mite-without-saying-much-short-video-says-lot/ After watching, talk about what you’ve just seen. What can we learn from this video? How should we apply this learning to our own lives? What steps can we take to be the generous ones?

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If your Sunday Church School students enjoy exploring words, consider doing an activity with the following synonyms and antonyms of generosity. Merriam-Webster.com offers these:

Synonyms: bigheartedness, bountifulness, bounty, generosity, generousness, largesse (also largess), munificence, openhandedness, openheartedness, philanthropy, unselfishness
Antonyms: cheapness, closeness, meanness, miserliness, parsimony, penuriousness, pinching, selfishness, stinginess, tightness, ungenerosity

Before class, write each of the above words on a 3×5 card. Mix them all up and place them in a pile where the students can reach them. Provide two baskets, one marked “synonyms for generosity” and one marked “antonyms of generosity.” (Or, if your students like to move around, simply mark different corners of the room instead of the baskets.) Have a dictionary available, as well. Have each student select a word and place it in its appropriate basket (or take it and stand in the appropriate corner). Talk together about that word, its meaning, and how it demonstrates either generosity or greed. After all of the words are sorted, discuss which of the two is the more godly way to live. Review all of the words in the “synonyms” pile, challenging yourselves to live in that manner.

Gleanings from a Book: “In the Candle’s Glow” by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson

The picture book “In the Candle’s Glow” by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson captured my attention from the moment I saw it. The cover illustration radiates peace as the main character stands prayerfully, gently illumined by a row of candle flames dancing like fireflies as she prays. That juxtaposition of peace and joyful motion made me curious, anticipating what I would read within its pages.

When I slipped the book open, I was not disappointed. It starts with flowers and bees, all blowing and growing in the wind. The life of a candle actually begins in that place: in nature, beauty, wholeness, just as God created the world and meant it to be. Bees partake of that sweet beauty and do their own work of using it to create honey and wax to share with their hive. A pleasant-faced nun sings her way into the book, ready to collect both honey and beeswax, and next thing we know there are slender beeswax candles lying patiently in a church’s narthex awaiting their next job. At last the reader meets the young pray-er from the cover, who dances into the book with much enthusiasm. Once she arrives at the church doors, Felicia stills herself, signs herself with the cross, then prayerfully enters. She notices the color and aroma of the beeswax candles, recalling their history for a moment before selecting one and igniting it, initiating it to its next task: carrying prayers. Felicia quietly prays, and as she does, she sees her prayers hovering, illumined by the candle. She watches as a gentle breeze wafts through the window, carrying the smoke from her candle into the heavens. Her prayers ride along to meet the icon of Christ, which watches over Felicia and reminds her that Christ Himself receives her prayers!

Amandine Wanert’s playful illustrations bring to life the swaying flowers, buzzing bees, singing nun, and dancing Felicia in this story. They also illuminate the gentle glow of candles casting light and hope around the interior of an Orthodox church. Readers will relish the peace that they feel as they read their way from the gleeful buzz of sunny fields to the serenity of prayer in church.

Here are some ideas of ways to study ideas from the book with your Sunday Church School students:

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Help your Sunday Church School students learn about bees with these interesting hands-on activities: https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/explore-world-honeybees/

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This short video can introduce your students to bees and some of the amazing facts about them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ta154f5Rp5Y

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In “In the Candle’s Glow,” Sister Irene treasured the bees’ work and used some of their beeswax to make candles. Bees work together with monks in this American monastery, too, providing the monks with honey and a little income (the monks take the bees to places that need extra bees for pollination at certain times of the year) in exchange for a hive and plenty of flowers from which they can drink. Read more here: http://dowoca.org/news_140326_1.html. After reading, talk with your Sunday Church School students about the idea: how do the bees help the monks? How do the monks help the bees? In what ways are bees and monks the same? How do we benefit from both?

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After reading “In the Candle’s Glow,” talk with your students about beeswax. Show them a piece of honeycomb (and let them taste it, if they want to!) and talk about how the wax is made for storing the honey and the baby bees. Then talk about the process of turning honeycomb into beeswax candles. Help them to dip their own tiny beeswax candles, just like Sister Irene did in “In the Candle’s Glow.” To do so, have a small (perhaps a potpourri-simmering-size) pot of melted beeswax already heated when they come into class. Also before class, cover the table and floor with newspaper layers taped together to catch any wax drips and cut one or two 12” lengths of candlewick for each student. Fold each length of candlewick in half over a pencil and tape it in place. When you’re ready to begin the candle making process, show your students how to slowly dip their candlewick in the small pot of wax, then pull it out, allow it to cool for a while, then straighten it with their fingers. Allow each student to dip theirs, cool it a bit, and straighten it, then repeat the process. Depending on the temperature of the room, it will take anywhere from 10 to 15 dips to make a slender taper candle. While you take turns with the dipping process is a good time to talk about how peaceful and meditative this work is. Sometimes monks and nuns make candles like this, praying as they work. Perhaps the class can pray the Jesus Prayer together or sing a favorite troparion as you slowly take turns with the dipping process. Once the candles have reached your preferred width, the students can pull the tape off of their pencil and free their pair(s) of taper candles. Show the students how to cut the wick so that the two candles are separated. (You may also want to trim the bottom of each candle flat with a sharp knife on a thick piece of cardboard “cutting board” so that the students can more easily stand their candles upright in a candle stand or a candle holder.) Talk about how deep the wax needs to be, to make a long candle like the ones we light when we go into church. That would take a lot of melted wax! Talk about how long it takes someone to make the pile of candles waiting at church to be burned. In gratitude for that person’s hard work, encourage your students to consider saying a prayer for the person who made their candle, every time they light a candle at church. Gather your candles together and pray the prayer of blessing of the candles, found near the end of “In the Candle’s Glow.” Then allow the students to take their candles along home to use at their family prayer table, or encourage them to light them at church the next time they attend a service.

16682022_10210696526521083_1762604804850405088_nA heat-free beeswax candle-making option (better for younger students) would be to roll your own beeswax candles. Here’s a tutorial: http://playfullearning.net/2013/03/diy-hand-rolled-beeswax-candles/

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Why do we light candles when we pray? If you have older students, engage them in that question for a bit, then compare their answers to those of St. Symeon of Thessaloniki and St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, as recorded here (under the same question, near the bottom of the page): http://www.stjohnsmayfield.org/what-is-orthodoxy-2/. Encourage them to talk about the answers of those two saints, comparing them to each other and to their own previous answers. Then, encourage your students and yourself to remember, as the page says, “For all these reasons cited by our Holy Fathers, let us often light our candles and make sure as much as possible that they be pure candles. We should abstain from all corruption and uncleanness, so that all of the above symbolism is made real in our Christian lives.”

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Allow your students to respond to the book “In the Candle’s Glow” with an art project. On dark paper, have them draw a candle (here’s one way: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGOFC6ahnVw) with chalk, oil pastels, gel pens, white or metallic pencils: any medium that shows up nicely on the black paper. Then have your students smudge the candle’s “glow” around its flame. Inside that glow, encourage them to write a prayer; the names of people for whom they want to pray; or a drawing of the people’s faces for whom they are praying.

On Sharing Our Love (Beyond Valentine’s Day)

For a few weeks of every year, our culture is inundated with love. Everywhere we go we see hearts, roses, chocolates, Cupid and his arrows, and Valentine’s Day cards. The world is a swirl of pink and red. Then Valentine’s Day comes, and we can definitely feel the love! But what about February 15th? Or the 22nd? Or March 19? Do we still feel the love then? Even more importantly, are we still sharing our love then?

It is easy to focus on making sure that our Sunday Church School students feel loved on that one special day, Valentine’s Day. It is appropriate for us to celebrate our loved ones and declare our love for them! But why stop at just Valentine’s Day? These precious people should be at the top of our “I want you to know that I love you” list: not just on February 14, but all year long!

The purpose of this blog post is to encourage each of us to continue to let our students know that we love them, even on “ordinary” days. We searched and found many ideas of ways to do just that. We are sharing a few of the ideas in hopes that some will strike a chord and ignite in us a new determination to warm our students with our love. If we do so, even when all the roses have wilted, the chocolates have been eaten, and the Valentine’s Day cards have been read, these important people in our life will get the message: “I love you, and I always will.”

Here are a few of the ideas we found:

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Find lots of ideas of ways to use sticky notes to send messages of love and encouragement to your students here: http://www.kirstenskaboodle.com/positive-messages-for-students/

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Help your students create some scripture-based love notes to share with their friends and family! Here are some free printable ones for starters: http://paththroughthenarrowgate.com/gods-love-notes/

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One way you can show your students that you love them is to create your own secret greeting with each of them. Need inspiration? Check out this school teacher’s individual student greetings: http://people.com/human-interest/north-carolina-teacher-personalized-handshakes-students/

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Find some ideas of ways to love the more-difficult-to-love students here: http://childrensministry.com/articles/discipline-sos/

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“Caring about your students doesn’t necessarily mean having a constant gushy feeling about them. Caring means commitment …feelings come and go. True love stays, in spite of annoyances. Love is a commitment you make to your kids.” Read more in this article:  http://www.christianitycove.com/sunday-school-teaching-what-caring-about-your-students-really-means/

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Find 10 simple ways to show love to your Sunday Church School students here: http://childrensministryleader.com/10-ways-show-love-kids/