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On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: The Passion (part 5 of 7)

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

Holy Week is often called such because of the great and holy events in the week (1), but “in the Orthodox Church the last week of Christ’s life is officially called ‘Passion Week.’”(2, p. 88) Passion Week is immediately preceded by Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday. We are including those days in this discussion of the week, since they are an integral part of the last week of our Lord’s life on earth before His death and resurrection.

Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday are the perfect beginning to this important week in the life of the Church. “The resurrection of Lazarus and the triumphant Entry of Christ into Jerusalem encapsulate the events and mystery of Holy Week: Christ is revealed as the source of all life and proclaimed and acknowledged King.”(1) Lazarus Saturday gives us a glimpse of Christ as “the Resurrection and the Life” as He raises Lazarus and demonstrates His power over death. (2, p. 84) Lazarus’ resurrection convinced many that Christ was the long-awaited Messiah-King, hence the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on (Palm) Sunday. Palm Sunday is one of the 12 major feasts of the Church Year. Every Lazarus Saturday and Feast of the Triumphal Entry of Christ, may we ponder and be willing to say: “the master calls me. He wants me to stay with him, not to leave him throughout the days of his Passion. During these days he wants to reveal himself to me – who perhaps ‘already stink’ – newly and overwhelmingly. Master, I come.” (3, pp. 137-138)

Passion Week itself is the most sacred week of the year, beginning with the feast celebrating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, all the way through the anticipation of the resurrection which we feel on Holy Saturday. Monday through Wednesday we celebrate “Bridegroom” services at Matins, remembering the coming judgement; and striving to prepare our hearts for the coming bridegroom. On Holy Thursday, we remember the Lord’s Supper and celebrate with a Divine Liturgy. “The very event of the Passover Meal itself was not merely the last-minute action by the Lord to ‘institute’ the central sacrament of the Christian Faith before his passion and death. On the contrary, the entire mission of Christ… is so that God’s beloved creature, made in his own divine image and likeness, could be in the most intimate communion with him for eternity, sitting at table with him, eating and drinking in his unending kingdom.” (2, p. 91)

On Holy Friday and Saturday, as we encounter the trial, crucifixion, death, and burial of our Lord, “we are confronted with the extreme humility of our suffering God. His death becomes our true birthday. And so these days are at once days of deep gloom and watchful expectation. The Author of life is at work transforming death into life…”(1) The reading of the twelve selections from the Gospels which tell about the passion of Christ takes place at the Matins service of Holy Friday, usually celebrated on Thursday night. Those readings, combined with the Hours of Holy Friday, offer us the opportunity to hear and relive the passion of our Lord, interspersed with prophetic scriptures, Psalms, and even the beatitudes. The Vespers of Good Friday commemorates our Lord’s burial; the Matins of Holy Saturday is full of “spoiler alerts” and finally proclaims the good news of Christ’s resurrection. Holy Saturday’s Divine Liturgy is both somber and celebratory, for, “The Church does not pretend…that it does not know what will happen with the crucified Jesus… All through the services the victory of Christ is contemplated and the resurrection is proclaimed. For it is… only in the light of the victorious resurrection that the deepest divine and eternal meaning of the events of Christ’s passion and death can be genuinely grasped, adequately appreciated, and properly glorified and praised.” (2, p. 98) It is at this service, historically, that baptisms occurred. To this day, it is an annual opportunity for Orthodox Christians to die and rise with Our Lord. But all the events at the end of Holy Week point to Pascha: “The peace of Holy Saturday is entirely oriented towards the great event of Sunday morning, towards the power and the joy of the Resurrection.” (3, p.161)

When Thou didst submit Thyself unto death,

O Thou deathless and immortal One,

then Thou didst destroy hell with Thy Godly power.

And when Thou didst raise the dead from beneath the earth,
all the powers of Heaven did cry aloud unto Thee:

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

Footnotes:

  1. Calivas, Rev. Alciviadis C., Th.D., (1985, 8/13). “Orthodox Worship”. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/orthodox-worship
  2. Fr. Thomas Hopko. The Orthodox Faith volume ii: Worship. Syosset, NY: OCA, 1972. Fifth printing, 1997.
  3. A monk of the Eastern Church. The Year of Grace of the Lord. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; 2001.

 

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

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Find background information about Holy Week that you may find helpful prior to teaching about it here: http://www.antiochian.org/lent/holy-week

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Find additional background information about Holy Week here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/orthodixie/2010/03/orthodox-holy-week-2.html

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If you have electronic communication with your students’ parents, consider sharing this Holy Week resource with them: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/children-during-holy-week-tips-for-parents/

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Find activity ideas to help your students focus on/learn about each day of Holy Week, beginning with Lazarus Saturday, here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/04/03/holy-week-activities/

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Teach your students about Palm Sunday, the Feast of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. Before you do so, check out some of the ideas in this post: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/on-the-feast-of-the-triumphal-entry-into-jerusalem-palm-sunday/

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Find links to crafts and activity ideas to help your students learn about Holy Week here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/04/22/holy-week-resources-for-sunday-church-school-teachers/

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This blog post offers links to a variety of activities that you can share with your students as you approach Holy Week: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/orthodox-holy-week-activities-children/

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This blog post offers ideas of things to put in learning boxes for the days of Holy Week. These learning boxes would be a very hands-on way to teach or review the week with your students. http://www.sttheophanacademy.com/2010/03/pascha-boxes.html (updated here: http://www.sttheophanacademy.com/2011/04/revisiting-pascha-learning-boxes.html)

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Before you approach the subject of the Cross and Christ’s crucifixion with your students, you may want to read the ideas and insights presented by these brothers and sisters in Christ (including a priest, a child psychologist, parents, Church School director, etc.): https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/04/03/on-the-cross-of-christ-and-leading-children-through-holy-week/

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If you have a Holy Friday retreat or simply want to focus on activities for Holy Friday, check out these two ideas: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2011/04/holy-friday-for-teens-and-children.html

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Teachers of teens may want to consider sharing some of the stories in “The Road to Golgotha” with your class, for discussion starters. Read a review of the book here: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/review-road-golgotha/

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On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: Christmas and Epiphany (part 3 of 7)

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

The feasts of the Nativity (simply called ‘Christmas’ in “The Year of Grace of the Lord: a Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church”) and Theophany (referred to as ‘Epiphany’ in that same book) fall within days of each other, regardless of the calendar being followed. Christmas falls on Dec. 25 (or January 7), and Theophany follows on its heels, on January 6 (or 19). For many of us, local culture offers multiple traditions related to Christmas, but few (or even none) related to Theophany. The monk who wrote the book encourages his readers to think beyond our culture’s interpretations (or perhaps misinterpretations?) of these feasts, and embrace them in a truly Orthodox manner.

The monk notes that most of the western church, “officially assigns a place to Epiphany which is not inferior to that of Christmas; but the devotion of the faithful has definitely concentrated on this last feast; it would even seem that, for the majority… Christmas has become more important than Easter. However, being faithful to the early tradition, we consider Epiphany to be the highest and most complete celebration of the coming of our Lord amongst men.” (p. 66) He goes on to encourage his fellow Orthodox Christians to “consider the period which lasts from Christmas to Epiphany as an indivisible feast, of which Christmas is the starting point and Epiphany the culmination.” (p. 66-67)

His meditation on the Nativity reminds us that in our hymns, we sing of Christ as the Dayspring from on high, and we mention that those of us who were in shadow and darkness have found the truth. The monk continues by pointing out that the Eastern Church thinks of Christ in terms of light. “Byzantine Christians certainly do not forget that the Word became a small child who was laid in a manger; but, while Western Christians seem, since the middle ages, to cling with pleasure to this flesh and blood child, the East sees above all in the Incarnation the coming of light, its triumph over darkness, and our own conversion from the night of sin to the divine radiance.” (p. 67-68) He concludes that the spiritualization of Christmas found in the Eastern Church is a different mindset than the west. May we approach the Nativity of our Lord with the mindset of celebrating the coming of the Light into our world, and live in such a way that Our Lord can shine in our lives, driving out the darkness.

The monk’s meditation on Theophany reminds us that “Epiphany is the first public manifestation of Christ. At the time of His birth, our Lord was revealed to a few privileged people. Today, all those who surround John… witness a more solemn manifestation of Jesus Christ. What does this manifestation consist of? …On the one hand, there is the aspect of humility represented by the baptism to which our Lord submits: on the other hand, there is the aspect of glory represented by the human witness that the Precursor bears to Jesus, and, on an infinitely higher plane, the divine witness which the Father and the Spirit bear to the Son.” (p. 82) As we celebrate this important feast, may we honor Our Lord’s humility while also being awed by His glory.

So, let us take some time to learn more about what the Church teaches and practices with regard to both the feasts of the Nativity and of Theophany. Let us teach our students what we have learned. In this way, all of us together can better celebrate these blessed feasts!

 

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

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

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This link offers quotes from saints, excerpts from books, festal music upon which to meditate, and homilies from recent bishops all focused on the Nativity of our Lord: http://www.antiochian.org/nativity/great-feast

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Read about Middle Eastern traditions for Theophany, such as “baptizing” dough in water and letting it hang outside to dry for a few days, then using the dough to make donuts at Theophany; and leaving a window in the home open so the Holy Spirit can enter; in the article “Holiday = Holy Day” by Natalie Ashanin, in “Feasts,” Issue #31 of Little Falcons magazine. This issue is still available here:  http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2016_Backissues.pdf)

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“The Treasured Traditions and Customs of the Orthodox Churches” by Mary Paloumpis Hallick offers a variety of Christmas traditions from different Orthodox jurisdictions. It would be interesting to study the different customs as a class! From Serbians saving a piece of Christmas bread for the first visitor to their home; to the 12-dish Carpatho-Rusyn “Holy Supper” served over straw or hay on Christmas Eve; to the youngest Ukranian child watching through the window for the first evening star to appear before the Christmas Eve feast can begin; to the Russian babouschka offering gifts to children in attempt to make up for not offering food or shelter to the Magi; to the Greek sweet Christmas bread called “Christopsomo”; to the Romanian children caroling through their neighborhood while carrying a pole topped with a large wooden star bedecked with ribbons and bells… There are so many different traditions, and all of them are interesting. Consider sharing some of these traditions with your students over the course of a class or several class periods in a row, and be sure to invite them to share their family’s Christmas traditions, as well! Find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Treasured-Traditions-Customs-Orthodox-Church/dp/1880971690

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Check out the AODCE’s nativity board on Pinterest for inspiration if you need ideas for teaching your students about the Nativity of Our Lord! https://www.pinterest.com/aodce/nativity/

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Help your Sunday Church School students learn about the Nativity of our Lord! You may want to include some of the ideas we posted in this blog: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/on-the-feast-of-the-nativity-dec-25jan-7/

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There are many educational activity ideas for helping students of varying ages to learn about the Nativity in this blog post: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/12/18/ideas-for-keeping-our-focus-on-the-nativity-of-christ/

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Find some ideas of ways to teach your students about Theophany in our blog post about the feast: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/01/08/on-theophany/

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Find a few links that can help you learn more about Theophany so that you are better prepared to teach your students about this feast here: http://www.antiochian.org/nativity/post-feast

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In the fall 2002 “Handmaiden” magazine (sadly, now a no-longer-published magazine for Orthodox Christian women), Heather Zydek wrote an article called “Baptizing the Waters of America: the Theophany Traditions of the American Orthodox Church.” If you are able to locate a copy, read this article to find the variety of Theophany traditions that Orthodox churches across the United States employ in their celebrations of the feast! These traditions vary from region to region, as well as jurisdiction to jurisdiction. It is very interesting to read how our brothers and sisters celebrate the feast! Perhaps studying these traditions will help our students better appreciate our own traditions by helping them see the reasoning behind each tradition.

On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: Entering Into the Year of Grace (part 1 of 7)

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

 

The liturgical year is what the Orthodox Church calls the annual cycle of events in the life of the Church. Although it begins on September 1, the Church year is actually built around Pascha, the culmination of the fasting and feasting throughout the year. Throughout the Church year, Orthodox Christians experience the life of Christ through worship, scriptures, fasting, and feasts. The Church year is much more than just a calendar. In his book, “The Year of Grace of the Lord”, a monk of the Eastern Church writes the following about it : “Each liturgical feast renews and in some sense actualises the event of which it is the symbol; it takes this event out to the past and makes it immediate… and we experience this efficacy to the extent that we bring to it a corresponding inclination of our soul… The liturgical year is, for us, a special means of union with Christ… The liturgical year forms Christ in us, from his birth to the full stature of the perfect man.” (pp. 1-2)

At the Church year’s very beginning on September 1, we ask God to bless the year. We gather on that day for a Divine Liturgy that includes readings from the scriptures filled with prophecy, warnings, wisdom, reminders of the resurrection, encouragement to pray for each other, all culminating in the gospel reading from Luke 4: 16-22 in which Jesus read in the synagogue, then sat down and told those in His hearing, ‘This day is this scriptures fulfilled in your ears.’ The aforementioned monk writes of this, “Would that on this first day of the year my eyes might turn away from the defilements in which they take pleasure and fasten themselves on Christ — and remain fixed on him… if I have the courage to keep my eyes on Jesus alone, if I do not turn them aside, I shall no longer fall. Lord Jesus, I look at thee. I have listened to thy promises. Let me now hear…the assurance: ‘This day is this scripture fulfilled in thy ears.’” (pp. 5-6) And so it is that we enter into another cycle, another opportunity to live the life of Christ with —and in— Him.

The Gospel readings for the first Sundays of the Church year offer us a sampling of what Christ taught and did in the lives of others. During these Sundays, we read about the Vineyard and the Husbandmen; the Wedding Feast; the Great Commandment; the Talents; the Canaanite Woman; the Miraculous Catch of Fish; Loving One’s Enemies; the Widow of Nain; the Sower; the Rich Man and Lazarus; and the Gadarene Swine. From the very start of the year, we encounter Christ’s power and compassion through these Gospel readings.

During these initial weeks of the Church year, we also observe the first two Great Feasts of the year. We celebrate the beginning of our salvation through the Nativity of the Theotokos, and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Both Feasts celebrate earthly vessels essential to our salvation: the Theotokos, who fully offered herself to God as should we (also through her, Christ took on our humanity, which is essential to our salvation) and the cross on which Christ offered Himself for us and for our salvation.

The beginning of the Church year sets the tone for the year itself. Let us attend and be mindful from the very start of the year. Let us also help our Sunday Church School students to learn about it, so they can grow alongside us from the very start of the new Church year.

 

O Creator of the Universe,

You appointed times by Your own power;

bless the crown of this year with Your goodness, O Lord.

Preserve in safety Your rulers and Your cities:

and through the intercessions of the Theotokos, save us.

(Troparion for the Indiction)

 

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

 

Here are some related links, including ideas for teaching students about the liturgical year, as well as others about the start of the Church year.

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“Orthodox worship proclaims the centrality of Christ. The liturgical year celebrates the presence of the mystery of Christ in the life of the Church and seeks to make the living Christ a renewing life-source for every Orthodox Christian.”
Read more about the liturgical year in this excerpt from the Preface to “A year of the Lord. Liturgical Bible Studies, v. 1.,” July 1981, by Theodore Stylianopoulos, here:

http://www.orthodoxchristian.info/pages/Lit_year.htm

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Find a downloadable wheel that each student can personalize and use throughout the church year here: http://manymercies.blogspot.com/2013/08/printable-church-calendar-wheel.html

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Together with your students, create a classroom wall display that will help everyone keep track of the liturgical year: http://makinghomenaturally.blogspot.com/2012/06/keeping-track-of-liturgical-year-with.html

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Your students can create a journal about the liturgical year if you purchase this package: http://www.saintkassianipress.com/LiturgicalYear.html

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Find music for the liturgical year here: http://antiochian.org/music/liturgical-music-children

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This blog post offers ideas of ways to start the Church year off right:  http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/ways-start-church-new-year-off-right/

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Need ideas for beginning the Church year with your students? https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/the-ecclesiastical-new-year/

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Here are some ideas of ways to help your students learn about the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/09/09/on-the-feast-of-the-nativity-of-the-theotokos-sept-8-or-21/

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Find our blog post featuring the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/09/16/on-the-feast-of-the-elevation-of-the-holy-cross-sept-14-or-27/

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“Throughout the whole liturgical year, these major feasts, these major components of Christ’s life, they now become part of my calendar. My calendar meshes now with the life of Christ. So throughout the year, I am almost making present again those salvific acts in Christ’s life: they now become part of my story… Sanctification of time… because time is an enemy: it leads us closer and closer to death. And here, in the Church, in this liturgical life, it’s our friend: it leads us to salvation.” Hear these quotes and find a great discussion starter in this GOARCH interview about the Church year (great for use with teen or adult classes): https://www.goarch.org/-/the-orthodox-liturgical-year

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On Creating a Substitute Folder for Your Sunday Church School Classroom

As Sunday Church Schools in the northern hemisphere prepare to begin a new SCS year, it is time for teachers to begin to ready their classrooms. An oft-overlooked piece that ought to be prepared before the start of the year is a “Substitute Folder.” It is unusual that teachers should miss a Sunday, and most times they are able to find and train their own replacement if they know they will miss a Sunday. However, once in awhile something comes up suddenly and even the most devoted Sunday Church School teacher must miss class at the last minute. This blog post will offer a few suggestions of how to prepare for that unlikely-yet-possible occasion.

In order to be ready for such a time as this, we recommend that every classroom have a “Substitute Folder” prepared. It should be easy to find, and/or the Sunday Church School Director should know where it is so he/she can gather it for the substitute. The folder does not have to be big or fancy: it can just be a simple three-pronged folder, clearly labeled “Substitute Folder.” It should contain the following:

1. A roster of students in the class. (And a seating chart, if you have assigned seats.)

2. An order or schedule of how class usually happens.

3. Helpful notes that the substitute can read quickly to learn more about the students in the class and/or tips that can help them succeed. (This will likely need to be written part way through the year, unless you know all of your students before the year begins.)

4. A lesson plan that can happen at any time of the year. It should be well thought through, and explained in a way that someone could just pick it up and read it while teaching it to the class.

5. Any books or other text that will be needed to teach the lesson.

6. All the photocopies and/or craft supplies (or directions on where to find them) that will be needed for the lesson.

7. An optional other activity or two, in case the substitute would need it to fill time. It could be a suggested related Bible or Saint story to read with/to the students; directions for a review-type game; a pencil and paper activity like a word search or crossword; or a drawing/writing challenge.

You may also wish to include a note to your class such as, “Good morning, class! I am sorry that I am not able to be with you this morning. Please welcome (substitute, insert your name here) who is filling in for me at the last minute. I look forward to being with you again next week, God willing, and will be excited to hear what you have learned in class today! May God bless your learning, and your week! With love in Christ, your Sunday Church School teacher”

It takes a little time and effort to prepare a Substitute Folder. However, the consistency that these plans will offer will ease the substitute’s job while also soothing the students. The one lesson in this folder may last you all year long, God willing, as long as it remains unused! But if for some reason you do need to use it at some point, at least you will be at peace knowing that your responsibility to your Sunday Church School students is taken care of, and that you have done all that you were able to do to teach them on that day.

Here are some links that you may find helpful as you prepare a substitute folder for your classroom:

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This teacher wrote a detailed plan for preparing a sub folder. Intended for a regular school teacher, many of the ideas would also apply to a Sunday Church School classroom. http://www.cfclassroom.com/2012/01/how-to-prepare-for-sub-w-free_08.html

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Here are some free printable pages that you can use as you prepare your folder: http://owlwaysbeinspired.blogspot.com/2013/08/sub-tub-and-sub-binder.html

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This free ebook is geared to a regular school teacher, but many of its ideas apply to a Sunday Church School teacher as well: http://www.cfclassroom.com/2016/03/how-to-plan-for-a-substitute-teacher.html

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You can purchase editable sub folders (geared to regular classrooms, but certainly usable by Sunday Church School teachers) such as this one: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Editable-Substitute-Binder-Forms-for-your-sub-binder-or-sub-tub-2830294 or this one: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Substitute-Binder-1926462

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In your substitute teacher folder, you may want to include a sub’s report back to you about how class went while you were gone. If you do, here is a free printable that you could use to that end: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Sub-Report-Form-for-Sub-Management-Binder-Substitute-Organization-Form-1592692

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One possible resource for a lesson for your substitute teacher folder could come from one of these mini-units. Select a mini-unit that your substitute can share with your students and then prepare a lesson from that unit to add to your folder. Every mini-unit contains lesson ideas for a variety of age levels. See http://dce.oca.org/page/mini/ to find a mini-unit that would coincide well with your regular curriculum!

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Gleanings from a Book: “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

Author’s note: This book has been sitting on my shelf for a few months – ever since the author sent it my way. I promised to read it and share it with you, but wanted to wait until nearer the time of the Nativity Fast so that it would be more fresh in our minds as the fast approaches. Every time I saw the book sitting there waiting for me I inwardly smiled as I anticipated reading it. The Nativity Fast is the one we anticipate next, and we can begin to think about it, so I finally allowed myself to pull this book off of my shelf and read it! As expected, it did not disappoint.

This book reminds me of just how very much I love stories from the Scriptures. From Creation to Noah to Abraham to Joseph, on through the kings and prophets, all the way to the birth of Christ; each of the 40 stories in this book helps the reader to learn more about Christ and how God prepared the world for His coming. Every story points us to Christ in some way, and they build on each other, referencing previous stories throughout the book.

I grew up hearing Bible stories over and over again. They are my old friends. It was delightful to re-visit so many of these friends as I read this book. There are also a few stories with which I was unfamiliar, so I soaked them in like a sponge, and made some new friends! (I was raised Protestant, so the stories such as those of Tobit and Tobias, not included in the Protestant scriptures, as well as many details from Holy Tradition about the Theotokos’ upbringing and marriage were unfamiliar to me.) The stories in “Welcoming the Christ Child” are written in a manner that is true to both Scriptures and Tradition while also remaining understandable to children.

While I loved reading the stories themselves, I also really enjoyed the insights which the author has included after the stories. Every story has at least 3 related questions (and their answers, too!) that can help readers think about the story. There is also an advanced discussion suggestion for each story. Between the stories, the questions, and the advanced discussion suggestion, every story’s important role in pointing people to Christ is explained in a way that is very easy to understand. Families with young children may only want to read the story. Those with older children can also include the questions. Those with even older children will want to take advantage of the advanced discussion. Families with children of varied ages will find aspects of the book helpful for each child.

Every story in the book has a watercolor illustration either embedded in or immediately following the story. Some of these illustrations are simple, featuring a detail from the story. Others are more elaborate, illustrating an important event in the story. All are colorful and eye-catching, painted in an icon-like style that can help children make better sense of the icon for the story.

This book is set up for families to read together. It would make an excellent very-early Christmas present for your students which you could give to them at the beginning of the fast so that they have it to share with their family! If you choose to give each of your students a copy to read during the Nativity Fast, and want to do something in class related to the book, you could spend class time on the Sundays leading up to Christmas helping your students to create each week’s related ornaments. This would take a lot of planning (and collaboration with fellow SCS teachers to make sure that not every child is bringing home a book and an entire set of 40 ornaments!) but would offer your students a gift that they would likely use during the Nativity Fast for years to come!

So, as we approach the Nativity Fast, let us begin to make our plan of how to grow throughout it. We fast in order to prepare our hearts for the birth of our Lord. One way we can prepare is by spending some time each day reading about Him and about those whose lives pointed to Him before He was born into our world. This book is an excellent way for us to do this very thing and to encourage our students to do the same. My only regret with the book is that it was not published 10 years ago, when I could have used it with my own (now grown) children!

Purchase your own copy of “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich here: http://www.sebastianpress.org/product-p/sp-bk-ch-2017-001.htm

Here are some gleanings from the book, followed by related ways to encourage your Sunday Church School students to grow in their faith during the Nativity Fast.

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“Why would Adam need company? Because he is made in the image of God, and God is love; God is a community of three Persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and Adam is created in God’s image, so Adam is also created to be part of a community of love.” ~ p. 10, Advanced Discussion Idea after “God Creates People,” a reading in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

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“We sometimes say that the Holy Church is like Noah’s ark – it is built according to God’s specific instructions so that we can be saved: He tells us to love one another, to fast and to pray, to receive the sacraments. We trust God and His Word, and God protects us inside our Holy Church from the storms outside.” ~ p. 20, part of the answer to “What if Noah had not followed God’s careful instructions and had built the ark in a different way?” a question after “Noah’s Ark,” a reading in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

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“The Church Fathers describe Joseph as being, in many ways, like Jesus. He didn’t do anything wrong, but other people envied him… both of them were betrayed for a small amount of money… Both went into a pit – Joseph was thrown in the dark pit until the slave traders came, and Jesus was in the dark pit of Hades after His crucifixion.” ~ p. 35, part of the Advance Discussion Idea after “Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors,” a reading in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

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“Rahab was not one of God’s Israelites, but she learned about God and chose to serve Him and His people… Rahab was rewarded by being allowed to live in israel, but she also received another reward: she was given a place in the line of Christ. …Rahab, a harlot from Jericho, became a part of that royal line that led to the king of kings, for God loves all people and includes all of us in His family.” ~ p. 70, part of the Advance Discussion Idea after “Joshua and the Battle of Jericho,” a reading in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

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“God actually used David’s weakness to teach us. When he fought Goliath, the fact that David was small and weak showed us that God must have helped him win. Later in his life, David’s other weakness, his sinfulness, enabled him to teach us how to repent; he wrote beautiful Psalms about repentance…
The prophets reveal God to us, but they are not perfect. Sometimes, God uses our weakness to reveal His glory.” ~ p. 86, part of the Advance Discussion Idea after “David the Psalmist,” a reading in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

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“Why did God give so many hints about the coming of His Son?

He wanted the people to know He was coming so that they would be ready for Him; they should expect Him and be prepared to follow Him. he gave them details so that they could recognize Him when He came. ~ p. 120, discussion question and answer after “The Prophet Isaiah,” a reading in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

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“The Fathers call Mary the new Eve, because in the Garden of Eden, the first Eve disobeyed God’s commandment not to eat the fruit of the tree, causing mankind to fall – but Mary is like a second chance, and this woman is obedient to God’s will and wishes only to do what is pleasing to God and best for mankind. Where Eve ignored God and did what she wanted, Mary does not worry about her own desires or wish to explore other ideas. Mary trusts God, and is happy to cooperate with God’s will, so she says yes to the angel. The child she bears will fix the fall, saving mankind from death and opening the gates of Paradise.” ~ pp. 147-148, Advanced Discussion Idea after “The Annunciation,” a reading in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

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“God can do anything, and He could have arranged for His own Son, the King of Kings, to be born in a palace but He did not; He chose for His Son to be born in a humble cave… He came to live in the humblest way, to share the most basic human experiences…He would live like the poorest people and suffer alongside us through all of the indignities of our world. The first people called to worship Him were poor and uneducated shepherds, because God does not care whether we are important to the world; every one of us in important in God’s eyes , and our Lord has come for each and every one of us.” ~ p.159, Advanced Discussion Idea after “A Child is Born in Bethlehem,” a reading in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

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Are you acquainted with the Orthodox Jesse Tree as a way to prepare your heart for the Nativity during that fast? (http://www.antiochian.org/christianeducation/tree-jesse describes it, and http://antiochian.org/content/advent-reading-jesse-tree lists all of the scripture passages) If you are, then “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” will seem very familiar to you. The book is set up to be read daily during Nativity Lent, and is patterned after the Jesse Tree Project.

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Jesse Tree ornament options:
#1: Soon there will be a set of Jesse Tree ornaments available for purchase which go along with “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich. We will post the link to the ornaments as soon as we have it!
#2: Teachers with younger students may want to help them make their own 3D ornaments such as these https://festalcelebrations.wordpress.com/2007/12/27/jesse-tree-project-2008/ which coincide with these Jesse Tree readings: https://www.scribd.com/document/42707446/The-Tree-of-Jesse. Many will coincide with the writings in “Welcoming the Christ Child…”, but you will want to cross-check the lists and may need to come up with a few ornaments of your own if you are reading the book as a family.

#3: If your students like to color, check out these printable ornaments for an Orthodox Jesse Tree: http://asimplehousewife.blogspot.com/2014/11/jesse-tree-orthodox-christian-advent.html. Again, many will coincide with the writings in “Welcoming the Christ Child…”, but you will want to cross-check the lists and may need to come up with a few of these, as well.

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Teachers of teens will enjoy having the discussion questions called “Advanced Discussion Ideas” at the end of each meditation in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent,” by Elissa Bjeletich. The teens may prefer to use the readings (straight from scripture and the Prologue) found here during the days of the Nativity Fast, instead of the more simplified readings in the book: https://festalcelebrations.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/festaljessetreeadditonaldays1-52pdf.pdf But regardless of which way you get the information (online or from the book), be sure to include a discussion of the book’s “Advanced Discussion Ideas.” They are thought-provoking.

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You may wish to invite your students to create their very own set of ornaments in response to the stories in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent,” by Elissa Bjeletich. For this option, you would probably want to send a stack of 40 copies of this Welcoming the Christ Child printable home with your students, so that they could do the activity at home after they read each day’s entry. You’ll also want to send directions, such as: “Work together each day, or let each family member take a turn to complete this page after you read and discuss every story in the book. Cut out the “ornament” on the page, make the illustration(s), and then add it to a basket, clip it in sequence on a string, hang it from a gold-sprayed-many-limbed branch, or add it to a small evergreen tree: whatever display method works best for you and your family!”

Back-Pocket Ideas for Creative Expression in Lessons

We have both created and collected ideas for you to slip “into your back pocket,” for when you are teaching and need some creative opportunities for your students. Summer break (if you have one) is a great time to be gathering such ideas and stashing them away for future reference. Then as you plan your lessons during the Sunday Church School year, you will already have creative ideas readily available for use with your students.

We recommend that as you take a look at the ideas and links that we share, if you find any that you like, bookmark the page on your computer, pin the idea(s) to your Pinterest board(s), or jot down your favorites on note cards. If you decide to take the notecard route, collect the cards in a recipe card box, or punch a hole in the corner of each card and clip them together on a binder ring that can be hung in your classroom where you can easily find them. If you come across a lesson-specific idea, you may want to jot your notes about it on a sticky note and place that in your teacher book at the lesson plan where you wish to use the idea. That way, you are guaranteed to remember it when you are ready plan that particular lesson. It is up to you how you keep track of the ideas which resonate with you, but do keep track of them somehow! That way you are most likely to be able to use them when an appropriate lesson arises!

Here are a few Orthodox “back pocket” ideas for creative expression in the Sunday Church School classroom. We are sharing them in the order in which we found them. We hope that some of them will be helpful for you to use with your students. What additional creative ideas do you have to share with the community?

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In December of 2014, we launched a series of blogs about including art in the Sunday Church School classroom. Read the initial blog here https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/12/06/on-including-art-in-the-sunday-church-school-classroom/ and then follow through the next few blog posts, to get some ideas of different art styles you may want to try with your students.

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Find Orthodox-specific craft ideas here: https://oca.org/the-hub/crafts/various-crafts

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Find some crafts which your students can use as they grow in their faith, here: http://orthodoxcamps.org/resources/ac

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Visit The Orthodox Children’s Press’ website for many craft ideas. Search “art” or “craft” to bring some of them up right away. Or just take a leisurely scroll through the site itself to see what all you find! http://www.theorthodoxchildrenspress.com/

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There are 20 Orthodox art/craft ideas here: https://fieldsofbasil.blogspot.com/2015/03/20-orthodox-crafts-for-lent-and-other.html

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Find Orthodox crafts sprinkled throughout this blog: http://www.illumination-learning.com/blog (Search “craft” to find them quickly.)

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This Orthodox blog offers craft ideas that could be helpful to your class: https://craftycontemplative.com/

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A Service Project Idea for Students with Traveling Friends

It’s that time of the year when many families in our parish travel together. If your class is continuing to meet for Sunday Church School over the summer,* consider doing this project during class one Sunday. A week or so ahead of time, ask your students to think of someone they know who will be traveling soon. Tell them about this project they will get to do: assemble a personalized travel activity folder for that person (their “project buddy”). Before introducing the concept to your students, you may also want to ask your priest if he knows of any traveling families in the parish, and have each student who can’t think of any traveling friend to create a project for one of the children in that family. Before the service project day arrives, print a variety of activity page options at different age/ability levels, so that your students have a choice and can customize the travel activity folder for their project buddy. (*If you are taking a summer break from classes, you can either make these for your own traveling students, or shelve this idea for a Sunday when you want to give them an opportunity to think of and bless someone else, and do it together then.)

Before class on the service project day, gather:

Two-pocket folders with fasteners (various colors, one per project buddy)

Markers, crayons, colored pencils, etc.

Plastic sleeves (several for each project)

Narrow dry-erase markers (one per project; optional)

Blank paper (three-hole punched)

Two copies of the travel prayer, hole punched, for each project

Enlarged photocopy of a picture of someone’s face for each project (each student – if it is not anonymous – or their project buddy would be ideal)

Copies of other coloring/activity/game sheets (three-hole punched)

When your students arrive at class on the service project day, talk together about traveling. Have any of them traveled? What did they do? How was the actual travel? What did they do to pass the time?
Once you have allowed the students to chime in about traveling, reintroduce the service project. Invite them to think about their project buddy. What does that person like? What kinds of activities would they enjoy doing while traveling? This project offers us the chance to serve someone else by creating something that they will enjoy in a time that could otherwise seem long and perhaps not-so-fun.

Have each student select a two-pocket folder from the pile and decorate it with their project buddy in mind. They may want to give it a title such as “George’s Travel Activity Folder” or “Fun for Catherine for Travel.” You can decide together whether these will be presented by the students themselves (in which case they can include a personal note inside like “I thought you would enjoy these activities while you travel. God bless your trip! Love, Maya”). Another option would be for them to be assembled and you can deliver them anonymously. It is up to your class.

Once the folder is prepared, your students can begin to assemble and insert the contents. The first sheet inserted in the fasteners should be the Orthodox Christian Travel Prayer reproducible. Insert it together as a class, and while you do, read it together, allowing each student to insert their travel buddy’s name where appropriate. (At the end of class, be sure to send a copy of this prayer which you printed home with each student so they can remember to pray for their project buddy while the buddy is traveling.)

Aside from the prayer, the contents of the folder are really up to your student. You will need to supervise and make sure that they are adding things that are age-appropriate for their buddy.

Here are some suggestions, and we will offer links to printables, as well.

  1. If you photocopied an enlarged photo of someone’s face, slip it into one of the plastic sleeves. The traveler can decorate the face with glasses, a moustache, a crown, etc., using a dry-erase marker. Then, they can wipe it clean and try something different!
  2. Car games such as scavenger hunts, tic-tac-toe, etc. should also be slipped into plastic sleeves to be used and reused in the same way.
  3. Your students can create their own activity pages with some of the blank paper you provide. Encourage them to think about the things you’ve studied in class and draw about those or create an activity page related to something you’ve studied.
  4. They may wish to insert blank pages so their buddy can draw or write whatever they wish in their travel activity folder.
  5. Your students may also wish to include printable activity/coloring pages that you prepared before class.

Once they have collected all of the pages that they wish to include in their buddy’s activity book, have them insert the pages and close up the holding tabs. They can tuck the thin dry-erase marker (if you provide these) into one of the folder’s pockets, for storage between uses.

After the activity books are all prepared, you can decide if your students will wrap them or not before they are given. This is up to you and your class! Say a prayer for the project buddies and their families, and ask God’s blessing on everyone traveling this summer, then dismiss so the students (or you!) can deliver the activity folders to their new owners!

Here are some links that you may find helpful as you print pages for this project. They’re listed in no particular order.

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Here are a variety of secular travel activities for kids to do. Of particular interest are the printable car games. Most can be used alone, as a sort of solitaire, or in groups. You may want to encourage your students to plan to include more than one of these copies for each notebook they assemble. That way the students’ family members can participate, as well!

http://www.landeeseelandeedo.com/2017/06/printable-car-games-for-kids-road-trip-games.html

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Find printable Bible Story coloring pages here which you could add to the travel folders when you do the service project: http://www.coloring.ws/christian.htm

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More (secular) road trip printables for the travel folder service project can be found here: https://www.thejoysofboys.com/free-printable-road-trip-games/ or here: http://lalymom.com/printable-road-trip-games-for-kids/

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Printable Bible story activity pages are available here. These would be great for elementary-aged traveling friends’ folders: http://www.dltk-bible.com/worksheet-index.htm

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Printable Orthodox Saint story activity pages can be found at this site. The pages will work well for a variety of ages’ travel folders, if you do the service project we mentioned: http://dce.oca.org/page/activity-books/

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Older children may be interested in having these beautiful scripture coloring pages in their travel folder:: http://joditt.com/free-christian-coloring-pages-adults/

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Here are some Bible story dot to dot puzzles at varying degrees of difficulty, for the travel folder service project: http://sundayschoolzone.com/resource-type/coloring-pages/connect-the-dots/

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Find mazes of every letter from A to Z here. If you know your students’ travel buddies’ names ahead of time, you could print the first (and last) initials’ maze for their travel folder: http://brainymaze.com/for-teachers/. (Find mazes of all sorts at the parent page, http://brainymaze.com/.)

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