Tag Archives: Learning

On Practical Reminders to Pray

“Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) is an exhortation St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Thessalonians. Such constant prayer sounds like a very Christian thing to do, a great idea, and a lofty goal that we should work towards someday. But have you ever read on beyond that short phrase? The very next verse continues, “…for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Wait, WHAT? Praying without ceasing is God’s will for us? Oh, boy… I don’t know about you, but I have got an awful lot of work to do if I wish to be living in a way that fulfills God’s will for me! (By the way, “Rejoice always” and “In everything give thanks” are the other two parts of that exhortation revealing God’s will for us, but we will address them at another time…) To be perfectly honest, I truly want to be the human that God created me to be. I want to be fulfilling His will for my life. But how in the world will I actually pray without ceasing? I wonder if you and/or your students feel the same way?

I get so caught up in life, in what’s happening around me, that hours can pass when I do not pray. That’s hours of not living in God’s will for my life. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner! I hope that I am alone in this transgression. If so, forgive me (and pray for me!). But in case I am not alone and there are others of us in this community sharing my struggle, I will pass along a few ideas of ways that we can begin to pray more often, stepping closer and closer to “without ceasing.”

It seems to me that the easiest way for us to pray without ceasing is to make a physical connection of some sort to our daily life. We need some practical reminders to do that praying. Perhaps we can gather as a family and talk about creating prayer cues. What in our life can be used as a reminder, to help us to pray? It may be helpful to make a list of cues that we will look for each day, and then match prayers to those cues. (Remember to include scripture prayers as well as other ones!)

Here are a few examples (besides our morning, meal time, and evening prayers) of ways that our family is trying to remember to pray without ceasing. I will share them in case they resonate with you as well. (These are geared towards older people, since my children are now young adults.)

I get so caught up in life, in what’s happening around me, that hours can pass when I do not pray. That’s hours of not living in God’s will for my life. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner! I hope that I am alone in this transgression. If so, forgive me (and pray for me!). But in case I am not alone and there are others of us in this community – and perhaps our students as well – who share my struggle, I will pass along a few ideas of ways that we can begin to pray more often, stepping closer and closer to “without ceasing.” Perhaps some of them will ring true to you, for use with your students.

It seems to me that the easiest way for us to pray without ceasing is to make a physical connection of some sort to our daily life. We need some practical reminders to do that praying. Chat with your students about the idea, and invite them to help you to create some prayer cues. What is it in each of our lives that can be used as a reminder, to help us to pray? It may be helpful to make a list of cues that we will look for each day, and then match prayers to those cues. (Remember to include scripture prayers as well as other ones!)

Here are a few examples (besides our morning, meal time, and evening prayers) of ways that our family is trying to remember to pray without ceasing. I will share them in case they resonate with you and/or your students, as well. Pass on any of these to your students which you think they will find helpful! (These are geared towards older people, since my children are now young adults.)

  1. Upon waking from sleep, pray one of St. Macarius the Great’s morning prayers, such as this one: “O Lord, Who in Thine abundant goodness and Thy great compassion hast granted me, Thy servant, to go through the time of the night that is past without attack from any opposing evil: Do Thou Thyself, O Master and Creator of all things, vouchsafe me by Thy true light and with an enlightened heart to do Thy will, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen”
  2. While showering, pray Archimandrite Sophronios’ prayer at daybreak (http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/prayers/daybreak.html).
  3. Our family lives three blocks from a hospital. Every time we hear a siren or helicopter, each member of our family pauses to pray for the person in need and for their family. If we are in a conversation when the emergency vehicle passes, we make the sign of the cross, signaling our desire for God’s mercy on that person.
  4. The same concept applies for any siren: police, fire, etc. Let the noise be the reminder to pray! Clearly someone is in need, their family will be affected, and the first responders need God’s guidance, wisdom, and protection! So, we pray: “Lord, have mercy on them!”
  5. Keep a copy of St. John Chrysostom’s prayers for every hour by your desk or workspace. (I do this, but unfortunately I forget that it is there, so it is underutilized. I need to find a way to remember to pray these simple “arrow prayers.” Any ideas or suggestions? Perhaps I should set a reminder alarm?)
  6. My husband often prays through the alphabet at night if he is awakened and unable to go right back to sleep. He will think of someone whose name begins with each letter of the alphabet, and then pray for God’s mercy on them.

Okay, so I have listed a few ideas. But there are still many, many hours in a day. How else can we pray without ceasing? And how can our Sunday Church School students, especially those who are children, do so? We can encourage them (and ourselves! ) to begin by praying very simple prayers aloud while performing daily tasks. Those simple prayers could include:
* While washing up before or cleaning sticky fingers after a meal, “I will wash my hands in innocence; so I will go about Your altar, O Lord.” (Ps. 26:6)

* While bathing: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Ps. 51:10) (or “Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Ps. 51:7))

* When brushing teeth, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” (Ps. 19:14)

*While putting on clothes or a coat, “…he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness…” (Is. 61:10)

*While turning on a light or lighting a candle, “O Lord, enlighten my heart, which evil desires have darkened.” (St. John Chrysostom’s hourly prayers)

*While watering plants, “Oh Lord, sprinkle my heart with the dew of Thy Grace.” (St. John Chrysostom’s hourly prayers)

*When planting or gardening, “O Lord, plant in me the root of all blessings, the fear of Thee in my heart.” (St. John Chrysostom’s hourly prayers)

*When locking a door, “O Lord, protect me from certain people, from demons and passions, and from every other harmful thing.” (St. John Chrysostom’s hourly prayers)

It may take a while for us to learn all of these prayers by heart and incorporate them into our daily routine. We need to encourage our students that that is okay, and work to find ways to help them to succeed in this endeavor. We can print the prayers on small cards and have our students place them where they will see these cards as they go about their day. (In case you wish to use the above prayers, we have created a printable version of them.)

What physical cues do you and your students use for constant prayer? Please share them below! In this way, we can help each other to pray without ceasing and thus walk in God’s will for us.

 

Here are a few links that you may find helpful as you grow in prayer without ceasing:

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Sign up for Orthodox Motherhood’s free 5-day email course, “Becoming a Family of Prayer,” here: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/. You’ll receive a daily email for five days in a row, each focused on a different aspect of helping your family to pray more. Each day’s email is brief but helpful and comes with printable worksheets that can better help you to grasp what the topic of the day is about. Each email will give you ideas of things to bring up with your students when you discuss this topic in class.

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Orthodox Motherhood offers ideas of 50 times to pray The Jesus Prayer. We can share these with our students, and help them develop their own list, specific to them: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/50-times-say-jesus-prayer/

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Find additional morning prayers that you or your students may wish to incorporate into your routine here: http://pomog.org/morningprayers-en/

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Find prayers for any time of day in prayer or service books, or at online sites such as this one: http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/prayers/

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Encourage your students to utilize a prayer rope to help them remember to pray! The Jesus Prayer is a wonderful way to pray with a prayer rope. Or they could also use the 33 different intercessions found here, one for each knot: https://fatherpatrick.wordpress.com/2008/09/15/33-intercessions-to-pray-using-a-33-knot-prayer-rope/

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St. John Chrysostom offers a one-line prayer for every hour of the day. Consider printing this, allowing your students to decorate it, laminate it, and then take it home to keep at their desk, sink, fridge, or anywhere that they’ll see it regularly and can pray the hours. Read more about these prayers here: https://frted.wordpress.com/2012/07/29/prayers-for-each-hour-of-the-day/. Here is a printable version that could help you: St. John Chrysostom’s Hourly Prayers

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This not-Orthodox-but-helpful blog suggests ways to pray using the scriptures. There are even printable prayer-verse cards that your students can put right at the space where they need the reminder! http://paththroughthenarrowgate.com/teach-us-to-pray-easy-verse-cards-set-one/

Gleanings From a Book: “The Sweetness of Grace” by Constantina Palmer

Author’s note: this blog post is for our personal edification. Our own spiritual growth will greatly impact the lives of our Sunday Church School students. We owe it to them to continue to learn to love God to the best of our ability so that we can better serve them. A book like this one can be a great help in our journey!

I was so delighted when I found out that this book was being published! I had already read Presvytera Constantina’s book “The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery,” more than once. I was so spiritually encouraged and challenged by the content of that book that as soon as I found out she had written a second book, I could not wait to read it. And, as expected, “The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory” did not disappoint.

I took this new book along on a trip and despite its 280+ pages, I finished reading it before I was even halfway through my second day of travel. “The Sweetness of Grace” is an easy read. The application of the content, however, is far from easy. Presvytera Constantina’s learnings, which she so readily shares in each of her books left me laughing, crying, covered in goose bumps, and longing to become the human person that God has created me to be.

Each chapter of this book is titled with one of the Beatitudes and consists of stories and encouragement related to that Beatitude. Some of the stories are ones that Presvytera Constantina has heard along her journey. Others are her own personal experiences. Every story points the reader towards godliness, both encouraging and challenging by turns.

In case you are wondering about the name of the book itself, Presvytera Constantina writes, “I’ve called this collection of stories “The Sweetness of Grace” because I feel this title captures the one element of Orthodoxy that does not change, whether one lives in Asia, Europe, or on a Canadian island. Whether one is a priest, monastic, or layperson, the sweetness of grace is offered to us all: through the trials, through the victories, we struggle to acquire and hold onto it, and when we taste it, we want to share that sweetness with others. By sharing these stories I hope to share the sweetness I was blessed to taste.” (p. 11)

The book is available for purchase here:

http://store.ancientfaith.com/the-sweetness-of-grace/

 

Here are a few bite-sized “gleanings” from each chapter. The following quotes were just a few of the many things that jumped out to me in the chapter under which they are listed. I hope that they will both encourage and challenge you, as well as offer you a taste of what to expect when you read this powerful book.

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“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”

 

(about a homily by Fr. Andreas Konanas) “He made reference to spiritualizing domestic tasks in our quest for sanctity. He described, for instance, how when we are in our kitchen cutting an onion and our eyes begin to water on account of the vapors, we should use this for our own gain. Even though the tears are not proceeding from a contrite heart in actuality, we can use them for our own devices and reflect on our sins, ‘cry’ for our sins, as Fr. Andreas said. He mentioned using simple things as opportunities for prayer, such as taking off our coat. When we take off our coat, we can say an internal prayer: ‘Just as I take off this coat, so remove mys ins from me, O Lord.'” (p. 21)

 

(quoting Elder Nikon, a Russian abbot) “The measure of a man’s spiritual growth is his humility. The more advanced he is spiritually the more humble he is. And vice versa; the more humble, the higher spiritually. Neither prayer rules, nor prostrations, nor fasts, nor reading God’s Word—only humility brings a man closer to God.Without humility, even the greatest spiritual feats are not only useless but can altogether destroy a person. In our time we see that if a person prays a little more than is customary, reads a little of the Psalter, keeps the fast—he already thinks of himself as better than others, he judges his neighbors and begins to teach without being asked. All this shows his spiritual emptiness, his departure from the Lord. Fear a high opinion of yourself.” (p. 39)

 

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“Blessed are those who mourn…”

 

“The first time Sr. Ephraimia stepped out of Vespers at the monastery she later called home, she felt as though her heart would burst open with spiritual exaltation. The grace of the monastery was so strong it overwhelmed her. Hidden from the exiting crowd by the shadow of one of the buildings, she sat down.

Tears poured from her eyes… How much longing filled her heart then! It spilled over, she couldn’t contain it any longer, having struggled to restrain herself during the service. She sat there alone and hidden from the world, giving thanks to God for having brought her home…” (p. 45)

 

(On a time when Presvytera Constantina happened upon a humble beggar for the second time) “This time I distinctly remember giving him change… I reached into my pocket and saw that I only had 300 won (about 30 cents). I cringed that that was all I had, but still I reached down and put the nearly useless amount of money into the beggar’s hand. To my shock, he grabbed my hand, pulled it close to his lowered head, and kissed it. A kiss from a lowly beggar: perhaps not something most would consider a great gift—or so it might seem to one not on the receiving end of such a gift. I pulled my hand back in surprise.

He raised his eyes and I saw he was crying. Tears began to well up in my own eyes…

The feeling that energized in me the moment the dear beggar kissed my hand is something very difficult to express. It is humbling to have one’s hand kissed, and even more so considering all I gave to the poor beggar was a mere 30 cents. But that is life in Christ: all we have to offer God is a few cents, and He gives us back one hundredfold.” (pp. 57-58)

 

“…There are so many saints waiting to intercede on our behalf for the numerous things that cause pain and suffering, torment and worry, those things that cast shadows over our lives and souls and make us think the darkness will never depart. All we have to do is cry out, they are waiting for us to do so. St. Nektarios of Pentapolis once said (after his repose), ‘It’s as if we saints are in retirement… the people don’t pray to us, don’t entreat us, don’t ask us for anything, don’t give us any handiwork to do. They don’t give us the opportunity to pray to God for them.'” (p 68)

 

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“Blessed are the meek…”

 

“…it is one thing to speak with wisdom and quite another to shine with wisdom, and we know from the Scriptures that a spiritual man’s wisdom ‘makes his face shine.’ (Eccl. 8:1)” (p. 79)

 

“There was a baby girl at our church in Thessaloniki that the whole parish was delighted to see every Sunday. Although she was only a few months old, she would begin to squeal, kick her chubby legs, and flail her arms with joy and excitement every time her father brought her up to venerate the icons before Holy Communion. She would continue this ritual of squealing and kicking until the priest exited the Royal Doors and she received the Immaculate mysteries. This went on for months.

People were amazed. They would smile and whisper to each other. It was a beautiful thing to witness, because we all understood that the baby perceived the presence of God and expressed her delight in the only way a baby can.” (p. 95)

 

“Children are so naturally guileless and pure that introducing them to an environment of prayer and good works, such as a monastery, impresses on their malleable hearts from a young age a genuine example of what it is to serve Christ through love…

All we need to do is give our children the proper predispositions toward faith, prayer, and good works, and they will begin teaching us more than we could ever teach them…

If only we were as obedient and faithful as these little ones. I’m sure whole volumes of books could be filled with the wonderful works of faithful children—works that would put us adults to shame.” (pp.101-103)

 

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“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness…”

 

“…Work and prayer are not mutually exclusive, but, as Gerontissa Philaret used to say, ‘Work, when combined with the Jesus Prayer, becomes prayer.’ The same thing occurs when we engage in the services with our mind and heart even while our hands work…”

(She points out the many resources we have to be able to listen to services when we are unable to attend.) “…we can listen to them while washing the dishes or running errands in the car. This is not to supplant attending services in our parish or even praying them privately at home, it is rather a means to attend services we would otherwise miss altogether. The point is to put our mind and heart in church even if our body can’t be there.” (pp. 110-111)

 

“We must struggle to keep our attention on worship and prayer. If it strays, we shouldn’t become distraught; we should simply call our mind back. Even if it strays a thousand times, the point is to struggle. Our thoughts have such strength that they can carry us away from church, and so conversely, our thoughts can also carry us to church even when our bodies are elsewhere.” (p. 112)

 

“While we were leaving the monastery after one (chanting) class, a group of us were walking together, and one of the girls lamented that she had eaten too many sweets that night… ‘you know where those calories go?’ (she) asked seriously. ‘Straight to my logismous [thoughts], that’s where!’ Although we all laughed about the calories going to her thoughts, this little observation really struck me… My dear classmate was onto something when she perceived that eating too many sweets goes to her thoughts. Our body is not unrelated to our soul, nor is living in the world unrelated to spiritual exercises. May God help us to see with our spiritual eyes and make an effort even in little ways, so that by struggling and being victorious in the small battles, we might win the great battles and receive great spiritual spoils as a result.” (pp 129-131)

 

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“Blessed are the merciful…”

 

“Abba Dorotheos writes: ‘The Lord Himself said: “Be merciful, just as your heavenly Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6:36) He did not say: “Fast as your heavenly Father fasts,” neither did he say: “Give away your possessions as your heavenly Father is without possessions’; but he did say: ‘Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.’ This is because this virtue—above all—emulates God and is a characteristic of him.” (p. 144)

 

“Giving money to those who need it, offering a dish of home-cooked food to a busy or struggling family, caring for and visiting the sick, taking time to sit and chat with the lonely, and tending to the needs and expenses of Orthodox temples, small and large, are all wonderful ways to offer our money, time, care, and love to others and by extension to Christ Himself: ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (Matt. 25:40)” (pp. 149-150)

 

“‘One of the quickest ways to lose grace is to judge your fellow human being,’ the hieromonk told a small group of us after a baptismal service…

‘Justify others. Condemn yourself. Say, “I’m acting like this, feeling this way because of my passions. If I didn’t have passions I wouldn’t act like this, react like this…” Don’t even pass judgement in your mind,’ he continued. ‘Fight thoughts: push them out, don’t let them stay in your head… Be compassionate and loving toward others, just as the Lord was and is compassionate and loving toward you.’

And with those words we left with the weighty knowledge that one of the easiest sins to slip into results in one of the quickest departures of grace.” (pp. 158-159)

 

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“Blessed are the pure in heart…”

“We go to great measures to preserve the good quality of so many material possessions. Many women, for example, are mortified if their expensive purse is laid on the ground. Why? Because it is valuable and worthy of care so that it will last and keep its beautiful form. Some women even keep their leather purses in special bags when they are not being used so as to protect their quality. And yet, what measures do we take to keep our nous and heart from becoming unclean? Isn’t it true that we leave the doors and windows of our senses wide open, never paying attention to what enters?

We need first to become aware of the fact that our nous and heart become defiled by the things we watch, listen to, look at, and read about, and then we need to take the necessary measures to limit the infiltration of sinful sights and sounds by means of prayer and watchfulness… If we guard our senses and occupy our nous with prayer, our heart will…become an abode for the Holy Trinity…” (p. 177)

 

“Even if the prayer of the heart is not something we can or will receive in exchange for our meager spiritual striving, it is worth the struggle. What is sweeter than to have our whole being in constant and continual communication with God Almighty?” (p. 190)

 

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“Blessed are the peacemakers…”

 

(Quoting an abbess on the Feast of St. Basil) “…My wish for the new year is for everyone to experience divine illumination, for us to truly see ourselves and to truly see the blessings of God… It’s difficult for us to see ourselves, our ‘old man.’ And sometimes, we see him so.. alive, and we have to cast him down: ‘Back off! Don’t think like that!’ We need to see ourselves, our sins. And at the same time bad things can happen: unemployment, illness, difficulties… many view these things as bad. But we, as children of God—as we wish to be called—look at these things as blessings. We should consider these things blessings. Everything that happens to us happens for our own good.” (p. 211)

 

(on identifying with a particular ethnic group in the church) “How we came to the Faith, how long we’ve lived the Faith, or whether we are members of an ethnic group is beside the point. The Christian life is not about where we’ve been but where we’re going. Christ doesn’t relate to us as we were, but who we are and who we are becoming.” (p. 214)

 

“Once Sr. Evsevia read us a story from the “Evergetinos” about a monk who was always displeased with his brotherhood and the monastery he was living in. He went from one to the next, to the next, always dissatisfied with the other fathers.

Finally, he arrived at the conclusion that neither the monastery nor the brotherhood was at fault, but that he himself needed to endure temptation in the place he found himself. So he wrote on a piece of paper: ‘In the name of our Savior the Lord Jesus Christ, I will be patient in all things,’ and resolved to remain in his monastery no matter what. Whenever he became upset with the other fathers, he took this piece of paper out of his pocket, unfolded it, and quietly read it to himself. Folding it back up and placing it in his pocket, he would exhibit patience.

Seeing this go on for some time, some of the fathers began to suspect the monk was reading a magic spell written on this piece of paper, and they went to the abbot to confess their suspicion. He in turn went to the monk and demanded to see the paper. When he read what was written thereon, he told the fathers, ‘This father does well.’

All of us were moved and impressed by this story, and one of our classmates brought a number of small pieces of decorated cardstock to class the next week. On each she had written the monk’s helpful words in a beautiful script. She gave one to each of us so that we too could remember to be patient in the face of all the trials and tribulations life throws at us.” (p. 222)

 

(on making a commitment to safeguard the peace of the community in which we live) “This simple commitment brings with it immeasurable protection. Many times we allow ourselves to vent. We convince ourselves that it is better to get it all out than to allow our anger to boil up inside us, as the saying goes. Unfortunately, we are wrong on two counts for engaging in such behavior.

First, venting allows our thoughts and suspicions, our hurt feelings and offenses, to become solidified. We confirm our thoughts by justifying them, explaining why we are right and the other person is wrong, how we are wounded and the other is a cruel offender. Second, we pull the other person or persons listening to us into sin with us. We infiltrate their thoughts and perceptions, tainting the way they think and feel about the supposed offender. This is actually worse than the first wrongdoing, because we are not only sinning but creating a stumbling block for someone else.” (p. 237)

 

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“Blessed are those who are persecuted…”

 

“…our spiritual life is not a game easily won. As Elder Joseph the Hesychast says, the powers and rulers of darkness ‘are not fought with sweets and marshmallows, but with streams of tears, with pain of soul until death, with utter humility, and with great patience.'” (p. 253)

 

“Once, when St. Euphemia the Great Martyr appeared to Elder Paisios the Athonite, he asked her how she managed to withstand the physical afflictions of martyrdom. She answered him, ‘If I had known what glory the saints have I would have done whatever I could to go through even greater torments.'” (p. 262)

 

“‘We should always make the sign of the cross, before we do something, before we speak,’ Sr. Silouani instructed us. ‘While caught up in a conversation, even if we can’t make the sign of the cross over our mouth externally, we can do it internally, noetically, so as to be protected, to say what is necessary with the right words in an appropriate manner.'” (p. 264)

 

“How easy it is to think, ‘I’d willingly die for Christ,’ but how hard it is to live for Him.” (p. 273)

 

On Finding a Way to Help (Even on a Limited Budget)

Author’s note: Summer schedules sometimes are changed enough that perhaps your Sunday Church School class would have time to do a service project together. If you wish to do so, here are some ideas of ways for you and your students to actively live your Faith this summer.

There are so many different needs that come to our attention. A local fire or flood, a foreign orphanage, a friend-of-a-friend’s illness with lofty medical costs, hungry homeless in a nearby city, etc. The list goes on, and sometimes it can feel overwhelming. Because we are Christians, we need to live a life of giving and helping. We become aware of needs, sometimes on a daily basis, and we are know that we should be part of the cure for those needs. But where do we start? What can we do to help? How can we make a difference?


There may be times and seasons in our life when we can actually go to where the need is and physically help. There may be other times when going is just not possible, but we are able to help financially. But what about those times when we cannot go, but we also do not have the kind of money that we want to donate to help?

Even as far back as the 6th century, this must have been an issue as well, because Abba Dorotheos spoke to it. His words still hold for us today. He said, “No one can say, ‘I am poor and hence I have no means of giving alms.’ For even if you cannot give as the rich gave their gifts into the temple treasury, give two farthings as the poor widow did, and from you God will consider it greater gift than the gifts of the rich. And if you do not have as much as two farthings? You can take pity on the sick and give alms by ministering to them. And if you cannot do even this? You can comfort your brother by your words. ‘A good word is better than the best of gifts.’” In other words, we need to look at what we can give, and give that; whether it’s lots of money, a little money, our time, or our kindness.

If we want our class to live the life of the righteous people mentioned in Matthew 25: 35-36 (“I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink,” etc.), we need to teach our students about the importance of giving from what we have, as Abba Dorotheos mentioned. But maybe we can get a little creative with what we have, and multiply what we have so that we have even more to give! If we just back up a little in that same chapter of Matthew, we will find one of Christ’s parables: “The Parable of the Talents.” In this story, we read about people who were given talents (money) according to their ability. The focus in this parable is not so much on how much they were given as it is in how they USED what they were given. The person with only one talent who did absolutely nothing with it ended up losing what he was given; whereas the ones who used what they were given, multiplied it and were able to enter into the joy of their lord.

But how do we multiply what we have? First, we need to talk with our students about giving and how important it is to our Christian life. Then we need to gather as a class and list all of the needs we know that we may want to help meet. Choosing one need to work towards helping first is our next task. We need to be sure to consult our priest on this part of the project: he will be very helpful in identifying which need(s) are the most important for us to fill. The next thing we need to do is decide how much we have available to give (we’ll call that our “deposit”). We teachers can personally offer the amount for the deposit, or we can have our students write a letter to their parents requesting a small donation, and pool those donations to create our class’ deposit. After we have gathered our deposit, we can begin to brainstorm creative ways to multiply that deposit. We can either set a specific goal of how much we hope to raise and work to that end, or just try to make our deposit grow as much as possible: that’s up to the class. Once we’ve brainstormed ways to multiply our deposit to help us reach our goal, we need to select one of those creative ways to multiply it, and work together to carry it out. (Note: we will need to enlist parents and/or other volunteers from the parish to help us with the “working together to carry it out” part!)

This process can be a great blessing not only to those in need who receive the final gift we give, but also to each member of our class! Those in need will gain some items or finances that they need. We will gain the joy of giving from what we have. We also gain the positive experience of working together to choose a need and then finding a way to help to meet the need. Perhaps best of all, we gain the peace of knowing that, at least in this part of our life, we are living as true Christians.

“Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” Matthew 25:40

Need some ideas of ways to multiply your giving? Here are a few. What ideas do you have? Share them with the community, and let’s all get to work, making a difference in our world! We are not limited to one creative means of multiplying our deposit: once we complete one project’s gift, we can move on to another!

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Spend your class’s deposit money on supplies to create something else that you can offer for sale. Does your class like to bake? Spend it on ingredients and get baking! Do you prefer to create things? Spend it on craft supplies and make the crafts together. Do you enjoy building things? Purchase the needed wood and get sawing! (Here are some ideas for starters: http://www.parents.com/recipes/familyrecipes/quickandeasy/simple-bake-sale-treats/; http://diyjoy.com/crafts-to-make-and-sell; http://www.diyncrafts.com/4478/home/40-genius-rustic-home-decor-ideas-can-build) Donate what you create, or sell it (perhaps to your fellow parishioners) to grow your monetary gift.

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Perhaps your “deposit money” isn’t money at all: maybe you are able to donate items that you no longer need or use or want to give. At home, have each member of the class go through their things and find items to donate (with parental permission). If you are trying to meet a need that requires the items themselves, you can give them as your gift. If not, and with your priest’s blessing, perhaps you could put them up for sale on a table in the coffee hour space. Anything that doesn’t sell to fellow parishioners could be sold at a yard sale, consignment shop, classified ad, or online. Then you will have money to give if that is what is needed! (You may want to check out the ideas here, or find more elsewhere online: http://clark.com/personal-finance-credit/where-to-sell-your-old-stuff-for-top-dollar/)

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What can you turn your “deposit” into? Find something that you’re willing to part with, and trade it for something better. Then trade that item for something even better, and so on, until you end up meeting your goal for the gift you want to give. Need inspiration? This young man traded a red paperclip for a pen shaped like a fish… and traded that for a doorknob with a crazy face on it… and on and on, until he had a house. Teachers (one of the trade offers which he turned down is not appropriate for children to hear, sorry) can watch his Ted talk about the experience here, for inspiration, if you haven’t heard about this idea before, and then you can describe the idea to your students: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8s3bdVxuFBs

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Perhaps you’d rather have a class work day to turn your “deposit” into more money. Brainstorm the kind of work you can do together as a class- perhaps yard cleanup, a painting job, cooking or cleaning for someone. “Advertise” to your fellow parishioners, to see if any of them would need your help and be willing to hire your class for specific tasks (or by the hour). You may need to spend some of your “deposit” on flyers advertising your services, on gas to get to wherever you’re working, on lunch or drinks needed to fortify you, etc…, but your earnings should still multiply that deposit!

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What talents do your students have? Consider hosting a “(grade level) Class Shares Their Talents” event at church or in your own backyard. Charge a small admission fee, have snacks for sale, have some guessing games or raffle items, and then have your class share your talents with attendees in a performance! In this case, your “deposit” will need to cover advertising flyers, food, and prizes. Your talents and the donations of your generous guests will multiply the deposit to grow your gift! (Here’s how one family hosted a neighborhood talent show, if you need ideas: http://lessthanperfectlifeofbliss.com/2013/08/talent-show-party-night-with-stars.html)

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What if you have no “deposit” money available to give? No problem! Approach business owners in your parish, to see if they would be willing to sponsor your class as you serve the parish or in the community. This idea gives twice: once to the organization which you are serving in the service project, and once to the need which your sponsor money will help to meet! Ask your priest for ideas of where to serve. If he doesn’t have any suggestions, consider one of these ideas: https://hybridrastamama.com/50-family-friendly-community-service-project-ideas/

Back Pocket Ideas for Sunday Church School Games

If your Sunday Church School continues to meet year ‘round and you want some fun ideas for summer classes, this blog post is for you. If you are taking a break from teaching for the summer, but are thinking ahead to next year and how you want to switch things up a bit in your classroom, this blog post is for you. If you just love to collect fun ideas and keep them in your “back pocket” so that you can pull them out and use them with your Sunday Church School class at a moment’s notice, this blog post is for you! (Does that cover everyone? We hope so! We think this blog post can be helpful for you!)

We have collected some great Sunday Church School game ideas, and want to share them with you. If you find any that you like, jot them down on note cards. You can keep them 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 up somewhere. Either way, place the cards in your classroom for easy access. That way you can find them at a moment’s notice, and can play them with your students either as part of a lesson or if you end up with a few extra minutes at the end of a class one day.

Here are a few “back pocket” ideas for Sunday Church School games that we found (in the order in which we found them). Whether you want to do something different because it’s summer or you are planning ahead for next year, consider these fun ideas! What ideas do you have to share with the community?
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Find ideas for “quick, on-the-go Orthodox fun” here: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2016/10/orthodox-games-on-go.html

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Find games for outdoor activities (like a Church picnic, VCS, or the occasional summer outdoor Church School class) here: https://oca.org/the-hub/games/various-games

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These indoor games are listed by age group, and vary between “quiet” and “running” games. Some could work in a classroom setting, while others would be great for VCS, JOY Club, or other large-group activity times: https://oca.org/the-hub/20-something/game-ideas

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These ideas for games range from games to introduce yourselves to each other to fun ways to learn from the Bible. While the source is not Orthodox, many of the ideas can be easily adapted and used in a Sunday Church School setting. https://disciplr.com/49-best-sunday-school-games/

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Find ideas of games that you can use to review what you’ve been learning in Sunday Church School here: http://paththroughthenarrowgate.com/sunday-school-games/

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Preschool teachers may want to adapt some of these (non-Orthodox) learning games for use with their students: http://classroom.synonym.com/sunday-school-games-preschoolers-8394712.html

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Find a variety of (not Orthodox, but easily used in an Orthodox setting) games for introductions, review, or just for fun, here: http://www.greatgroupgames.com/sunday-school-games.htm

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Download and use these fun icebreaker games from Orthodox Christian camps: http://orthodoxcamps.org/resources/games

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On Virtuous Year-End Awards

For many of us in North America, the Sunday Church School year is coming to an end. The end of a year offers the opportunity to note growth and accomplishment in all of us, but especially in our students. This a good time to review their growth and celebrate with them the positive ways we have seen them change.

Perhaps your Sunday Church School offers awards at the end of the year, such as certificates celebrating perfect attendance, most improved, best at ____, etc. Those achievements are important, and should be noted. But there are even more important ways for a child to improve than curriculum and attendance. As Orthodox Christians, we should constantly be evaluating and celebrating our spiritual growth and that of our students. The end of a school year is a great time to do so! Let us take a little time to think about each of our students and note their growth in the virtues. Growth in virtue is one way to measure their growth in The Faith. Perhaps this year would be a good time to begin giving our students virtues awards as well!

Not sure where to start? Check out our recent blog posts on the virtues (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/, the beginning of the series), which offered suggestions of ways to teach our students about each of the virtues. Each of these blog posts can offer us helpful information about the virtue on which it focuses, which we can then apply as we think about each child. How have they grown in humility, liberality, chastity, mildness, temperance, happiness, and diligence? Which of these virtues do they best exemplify in their life? In which virtue have they grown the most?

Once we have answered some of the above questions, it would behoove us to find a way to acknowledge our observation of our children’s growth. This could be as simple as setting aside time with each child to privately encourage them and congratulate them on their growth in this area. Or perhaps we could take part of our last class together and have a “virtues awards” ceremony, wherein we note and celebrate each child’s growth in virtue.

If we choose to do an official “ceremony,” we can begin the discussion by showing the students a picture of them from the beginning of the school year (if we have one!) and compare it to how they look now. We can talk a bit about how they’ve grown physically this year. We can ask them to share other things they’ve learned over the course of the year (for example, how to ride a bike or play lacrosse or cook dinner). We could discuss academic growth as well, including the awards they’ve gotten at school. At this point, we can segue into a discussion of the children’s growth in the virtues. We can take time with each virtue as it applies to each child or we can talk about each child in turn and celebrate all the virtues in which we have noted growth for that child. Perhaps we will want to present the children with a tangible award celebrating their growth in a particular virtue. We may even want to present them with a gift such as an award certificate, a playful token representing the virtue in which they’ve grown, or a donation to a charity of the students’ choice in honor of their spiritual growth. How we choose to acknowledge the growth will vary, according to what the class needs. The important thing is that we notice the growth and encourage our students to continue to grow in virtue! When others see the good that is happening in us and acknowledge it, it makes us want to press on – and become even more godly! Let us do this for our Sunday Church School students, and press on together with them!

 

Here are ideas of tangible awards for each of the virtues, in case you want something to give to your students and need ideas. (You can choose to do just a verbal award, give a token gift, or maybe a donation to the charity of your class’ choice. Whichever works best for you!)

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Humility:

This printable certificate: Humility Certificate

or

This playful “award”: a slinky, some silly putty, or a container of slime. All three seek to return to the lowest point, just as we should continually try to be completely humble.

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Liberality:

This printable certificate: Liberality Certificate

or

This playful “award”: a pack of stickers or a large container of bubble solution – something that can be freely and easily shared, to continue practicing the virtue of liberality!

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Chastity:

This printable certificate: Chastity Certificate

or

This playful “award”: a playful bar of glycerin soap (perhaps with a toy embedded in it) or a kid-friendly liquid soap pump. Either offers a way to continue to keep (your hands, at least!) pure.

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Mildness:

This printable certificate: Mildness Certificate

or

This playful “award”: a stress ball or a liquid motion bubbler. Both are calming and can offer a way to remain mild in the face of an opportunity to be angry or anxious.

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Temperance:

This printable certificate: Temperance Certificate

or

This playful “award”: a box of cookies, fruit snacks, or other beloved treats that can offer the child the opportunity to continue to practice temperance.

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Happiness:

This printable certificate: Happiness Certificate

or

This playful “award”: a smiley face pin – actually, anything with a smile emoji on it! Wearing a smile will make others smile as well, and will remind you to continue to choose to be happy.

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Ideas for an award for the virtue of Diligence:

This printable certificate: Diligence Certificate

or

This playful “award”: a hoola hoop, jump rope, or puzzle. Whichever your child would enjoy the most, while working at it and being reminded to keep trying and not to quit!

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Here is a link to all seven certificates, if you wish to print all of them: Virtues Certificates – Google Docs

 

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 Miracles That God Performs Through Icons

Icons are windows to heaven. We have them in our churches, we have them in our homes, and perhaps in our car/locker/workspace/elsewhere as well. They are in these places as visual reminders of Truth. Icons remind us of the power of God at work, either through the written images of Christ Himself or of those gone before us who have followed Him completely and became saints. They help us to better understand the scriptures and to better connect with the person/people written on them. Icons draw us to God by virtue of their beauty, the stories of faithfulness they represent, the Scriptures they unveil. It is a miracle that something so simple as a prayerfully-written icon can do so much to help us on our journey toward Him.

Occasionally, God chooses to move beyond that sense of “being drawn,” and to work other miracles through them. The purpose of this blog post is to help each of us to learn about some of the icons He is using in this way (or has recently used in this way), and to read the stories of miracles wrought through them. It is our hope that this post will be encouraging and help each of us to be aware of how God is at work through icons. These stories will also encourage our students, as we share the stories with them.

There are several ways that you could share these miracles with your Sunday Church School Students. One of these accounts could be shared as your students are eating their snack (if you have Church School right after Liturgy), each week for a period of weeks. Or perhaps you could share one at the beginning or end of every class for a season. Perhaps you would prefer to teach a lesson about miracles wrought through icons and wish to select several of the stories to study in a lesson or series of lessons. It is up to you how you utilize these stories. Please consider sharing them with your students! Children are naturally full of wonder, and will benefit from knowing these amazing ways in which God is at work through holy icons.

 

Here are a few examples of miracle-working icons and their stories which you may wish to share with your students:

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What would you or your students do if some of the icons in your prayer corner miraculously began streaming myrrh? Read this account by Subdeacon Nectarios himself, of what happened in his home. In the account, you’ll read about two streaming icons (each with different-smelling myrrh), a cat, a “doubting Thomas” who ends up with a mouthful of “proof,” and a few of the miracles that the miraculous myrrh have wrought. Glory to God! http://www.orthodoxhawaii.org/icons.html

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The Kardiotissa Icon of the Mother of God, at St. George Orthodox Church in Taylor, Pennsylvania, has been exuding myrrh ever since it was anointed with the myrrh of the Hawaiian Iveron icon in October of 2011. Many, many lives have been changed as a result. Share some of the miracles that have happened, as accounted in this homily, with your students: http://www.schwebster.org/sermons/2014-sermons/the-miracles-and-wonders-of-god-the-crying-icon-of-taylor-pa

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Begin a discussion with your older students about different kinds of healing (physical vs spiritual) by reading them this quote (and perhaps the entire article): “Over the past ten years there have been many miracles; some I’ve heard about and some I haven’t. There have been many physical healings, external, and there have also been many spiritual, inner healings. Through this Icon many of the faithful have experienced radical transformations in their lives. It’s as if people become liberated from the ‘old man’ and ardently strive towards God.  When the Icon is present in various churches, monasteries and homes, one senses a renewal of love for the Mother of God; almost immediately many people approach for confession, spiritually reborn through a feeling of repentance.  I’d like to say that the Mother of God helps our believers sense their sinfulness before Her Son, Jesus Christ.”


Read this and more of the story and miracles of the copy of the Iveron icon of the Mother of God (the same one whose copy was sent to Hawaii and began myrrh streaming there, and when that one in turn visited the Kardiotissa icon in Pennsylvania it began exuding myrrh as well), which was brought to Canada from Mt. Athos by a Chilean convert to Orthodoxy here: http://www.roca.org/OA/120/120k.htm

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“One can go on for a very long time listing the different holy Icons of the Ever-Virgin Mary and Theotokos and all the wonderful countless miracles of our Panagia. It is, however, important for all Orthodox Christian believers to always seek the holy intercessions of the Mother of God and to turn to Her for aid, healing, comfort and salvation.” Read some of the miracles in this article: http://saintandrewgoc.org/home/2014/8/25/the-miraculous-icon-of-panagia-portraitissa-the-keeper-of-th.html. Ask your students if they have heard any other stories of times when God has worked miracles through an icon of the Theotokos. Then, spend some time praying and asking her to pray for you and your loved ones – and the whole world!

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Watch this 8-minute video that shows miracle after miracle, mostly related to icons, which God has granted through His Holy Orthodox Church. The video is set to parts of the Vespers service chanted by Eikona, and could be a wonder-filled way to end a class about miracle-working icons! (We recommend that you watch it before showing it to your students, however, so you know what they will see and can be prepared to answer related questions.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-AOO903CZA

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Throughout history, icons of the Mother of God have worked miracles. This article shares the commemoration days of many icons of the Theotokos, along with some of the stories of miracles attributed to those icons, set throughout history. These stories are not as recent as some of the above, but they are still miracles and well worth learning about! To read about an icon of the Theotokos and/or a miracle attributed to the icon, click on the month, then which of the days of that month you’d like to read about: https://oca.org/saints/icons-mother-of-god. In order to learn about more of them, consider allowing each student to select a different one to learn about and share their learnings with the rest of the class. (You will need to plan ahead and print things out, unless you have internet access in class or you give the students the assignment to bring back on a different Sunday.)

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“Venerating a miracle is also a way of acknowledging the importance of its context. A weeping icon is amazing, but it’s obviously not meant to distract attention away from the liturgical, sacramental, and doctrinal life of the Church. If anything, a miracle should amplify the importance of Church practices and teaching, for the God who causes the miracle is also the God who established these as markers of his ‘new and everlasting covenant’ with mankind.” Read more about responding to miracles wrought through icons in this article:  http://myocn.net/miracle-greece-weeping-icon-mean/. After reading the article, be sure to discuss it with your students so that they know how best to respond to any miraculous events they may experience that are associated with icons.