Tag Archives: Learning

Lenten Sundays Series: The Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt

This is the seventh in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about that particular Sunday’s focus. We will share each blog early, so that you have time to read it before the forthcoming Sunday, in case you find any of those ideas helpful for your particular class.

Here’s a meditation on the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:

 

On this fifth Sunday of Great Lent, we focus on the life of St. Mary of Egypt. St. Mary was born in Egypt, left home at the age of 12, and spent the next 17 years taking advantage of men for her own physical pleasure. Not until she was on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (for all the wrong reasons, but God works even through our wrong choices) did she begin to question the path she was taking. It was when she was unable to enter the church to venerate the Holy Cross that she realized something was wrong. The Theotokos herself helped Mary to understand the severity of her sins, and she repented. She repented so completely that she spent the rest of her days in the desert, fighting against her own fleshly desires and sins. God was with her there in the desert, and he showed His presence to her by providing for her needs and helping her to learn the scriptures and the ways of the Church even without another human there to teach her about them. This allowed Mary to grow more and more holy.

A holy monk, Zosimas, was the lone person she saw, and she did not see him until 47 years after she fled to the desert. They had only two encounters, both of which encouraged each of them. Zosimas was able to learn of Mary’s story, and Mary was able to receive Holy Communion at the hand of Zosimas right before she died. Each of these two people longed for holiness in their own life, and both were humbled by the other’s presence on their journey.

This humility is an interesting contrast to Mark 10:32-45, the Gospel reading for this Sunday. This Gospel reading reminds us of the squabbling disciples, who are fighting for greatness in this passage. It is interesting that the Church has chosen to offer us the opportunity to study the life of St. Mary, who fought her pride and humbled herself in the desert for most of her life; and then contrast it with the disciples’ desire to sit at Christ’s right hand in His kingdom. It is as though the Church is saying to each of us, “Here are two approaches to life in the Kingdom of God. Who will you choose to be like?” We all know who we should emulate, but repenting and humbling ourselves as completely as St. Mary did is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. Yet here is her life, offered to us as we approach the end of Great Lent, encouraging us to continue to fight the good fight as she did; to abstain from our passions so completely that we learn from Christ Himself and find ourselves humbled when we are in the presence of even the humblest of fellow humans.

Holiness is not limited to those with a perfect background. Although God can certainly work in and through those who have always lived holy lives (as did Abba Zosimas), He also brings healing and holiness to those of us who repent completely and turn our focus away from the things of this earth and completely on Him (as He did in the life of St. Mary of Egypt). Glory to God who embraces us as we struggle and meets us in that place!

In you the image was preserved with exactness, O Mother;

For taking up your cross, you did follow Christ,

And by your deeds you did teach us to overlook the flesh, for it passes away,

but to attend to the soul since it is immortal.

Wherefore, O righteous Mary, your spirit rejoices with the Angels.

 

St. Mary of Egypt, please intercede for our salvation!

Here are a few ideas of ways to help your students learn about St. Mary of Egypt:

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Find lesson plans about the life of St. Mary of Egypt for various age levels here:

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/3-5-years-old/st-mary-egypt

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/6-9-years-old/st-mary-egypt

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/10-12-years-old/st-mary-egypt

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This child-sized picture book tells the story of St. Mary of Egypt’s life with simplified wording, and illustrates it beautifully: https://www.svspress.com/saint-mary-of-egypt-paterikon-for-kids-25/

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Young children may enjoy this “turn your life around” activity that uses a simple craft to encourage us to learn repentance from St. Mary of Egypt. http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2014/04/st-mary-egypt-turn-life-around.html

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Middle-years students will benefit from seeing this 4-minute video about the life of St. Mary of Egypt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhqzOfWPV4g

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This retelling of the life of St. Mary of Egypt tells her story in a child-appropriate way, and includes a number of icons that could be helpful as you share her story with your Sunday Church School students: http://frederica.com/writings/st-mary-of-egypt-for-all-ages.html

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For a lesson on the life of St. Mary of Egypt including basic information about the her life here: http://dce.oca.org/assets/templates/bulletin.cfm?mode=html&id=17

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Find a beautiful icon of St. Mary of Egypt, including scenes from her life, as well as a helpful description of it, here: https://iconreader.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/the-vita-icon-of-st-mary-of-egypt/

 

After reading the icon, you may want to offer each student a copy of this printable graphic-novel-style sheet that tells the life of St. Mary of Egypt. http://manymercies.blogspot.com/2015/03/life-of-st-mary-of-egypt-printable.html

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After a class about St. Mary of Egypt, you may want to print this and send it home with your students. It features a simple meditation about the Sunday, and discussion and activity suggestions for a family learning time. https://www.goarch.org/documents/32058/2618758/familygospellesson_maryofegypt.pdf/e09632ba-fda2-46ed-a631-f3e030c16f98

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Older students will benefit from listening to this talk on part of the life of St. Mary of Egypt, and then discussing it together. This talk includes practical suggestions of things to do if/when you find yourself unable to pray or to make the sign of the cross: https://orthodoxlivonia.org/files/Adult-Ed-Classes/2018-03-25-Ad-Ed-Class.mp3
It is a 25 minute talk, so perhaps you will want to provide paper and pencils for note-taking and/or doodling during the listening.

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There are five “takeaways” from the life of St. Mary of Egypt mentioned in this article that can be applied to students of any age. As you prepare a class about her life, read this article and see if any of these five learnings should be stressed for your particular students: http://www.pravmir.com/5-things-still-learn-st-mary-egypt/

 

Lenten Sundays Series: Forgiveness Sunday

This is the second in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about that particular Sunday’s focus. We will share each blog early, so that you have time to read it before the forthcoming Sunday, in case you find any of those ideas helpful for your particular class.

Here’s a meditation on Forgiveness Sunday for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:

The Sunday immediately before Great Lent begins is usually referred to in the Orthodox Church as “Forgiveness Sunday.” Forgiveness Sunday has two major themes: the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden, and Forgiveness. We will take a short look at each of these themes, here.

It is important that this day features the expulsion of Adam and Eve, who in the beginning walked and talked with God in Paradise. This sort of relationship with God is what we wish to restore in our own life, and Lent is a time when the Church encourages us to do so with vigor. So it makes sense that She provides us with a reminder of what has been lost, and how it was lost, just before we begin Great Lent. This reminder also causes us to ponder the reality of Hades – where everyone went after their death, after Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Paradise. Because we are blessed to live in a time when we are able to know Christ, we also think of Him, who by His death trampled the doors of Hades, and rescued Adam and Eve, and all of us from Hades’ grasp, forever. So, even right here, just before Great Lent begins, we already have a spoiler alert. We know where this is going, and we want to be part of it!

Forgiveness Sunday’s Gospel reading is found in Matthew 6: 14-21 (NKJV)
“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

This Gospel reading is, in a sense, a good map for our Lenten journey. It begins with forgiveness. In order to restore our relationship to God, we need to be forgiven the multitude of our sins. This Gospel reading reminds us that if we want forgiveness from God, we need to also forgive others. The reading continues by telling us how to fast: not by showing off, but simply and quietly, genuinely. And it finishes with an admonishment for our focus: it should not be on earthly things, but on the heavenly. Great Lent is the perfect time to re-orient our focus to heavenly things. The Gospel reading’s last sentence summarizes the whole passage: where our treasure is is also where our heart is found.

Let’s take another look at the Gospel reading, this time through the lens of that last sentence. If we treasure forgiveness from God, our heart will be full of forgiveness for our fellow humans. During Great Lent, we are offered the opportunity to serve others willingly. We can more effectively serve if we are forgiving, not holding grudges. Forgiving others and serving them restores our relationship with them, and opens our hearts to receive forgiveness from God.

If we treasure relationship with God, our heart will be full of joyful, non-pretentious fasting. During Lent we are invited to eat less and pray more, giving Him our attention instead of seeking the attention of others or looking to food for satisfaction. Working to control our physical body’s desires and spending more time and energy in prayer restores our relationship to God.

And if we truly treasure God’s Heavenly Kingdom, the stuff of earth will matter not to us. During Great Lent, we are encouraged to do a better job of giving alms. Almsgiving lays up for us treasures in Heaven, while also blessing us with the opportunity to extend love to our fellow humans, and in doing so, to Christ Himself. Letting go of earthly things and earthly cares restores our ability to care for what is important to God: His creatures, His creation, and His Kingdom.

The Church steps right into the beginning of this Gospel passage with Her practice of offering Forgiveness Vespers to begin Great Lent. We’re not sure exactly when this beautiful service began to be offered. We do know that Forgiveness Vespers has been practiced since at least 520 AD, for it is mentioned in the story of the Life of St. Mary of Egypt. So Orthodox Christians have been beginning Great Lent by forgiving each other for a very long time.

According to Forgiveness Sunday’s Gospel reading, forgiving each other is a natural way to begin Great Lent.

Please forgive me, a sinner. And may God forgive us all and restore us to right relationship with Him.

Here are some some ideas you may wish to use as you help your students learn about Forgiveness Sunday:

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This blog post from several years ago features a whole list of ways to help your students learn about Forgiveness Sunday: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/02/13/on-forgiveness-vespers/

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Listen to this Sunday’s Gospel reading told in simple terms for younger children, and read from the Gospel for older children, at https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/letusattend. Find 5 levels of printable pages with questions for related discussions at http://ww1.antiochian.org/christianeducation/letusattend.

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Teachers of young children may find this podcast helpful as they share Forgiveness Sunday with their students. https://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/tending_the_garden/forgiveness_sunday_for_younger_children

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Begin a class on Forgiveness Sunday (for young children through elementary) with a pile of bricks and a red paper heart in your classroom. Ask the students why they think you have these items in your class. Invite the students to stack the bricks on top of the paper heart, on the floor of your classroom. As they stack, invite them to say a word or an action that can make someone sad or hurt. Then show them this video from The Orthodox Children’s Press, about Forgiveness and Forgiveness Vespers. https://youtu.be/ED3f0e4QBXM . After watching (and reading it aloud if your students are too young to read it for themselves), ask again why you have these items in your classroom. Invite students to practice for Forgiveness Vespers by taking turns picking up a brick from the pile, saying, “God forgives and I forgive!” and placing it in a trail/path shape on your classroom floor.

Craft/activity idea #1: To focus on the truth that our choices hurt others, but God can forgive and heal those hurts, invite students to create their own red paper heart. Direct them to trade with a friend, and make a cut on the friend’s heart. Remind them that when we say and do mean things, it’s like hurting the other person’s heart. When they get their heart back again, they may feel very sad, because it hurts when people do mean things to us. But God can bring healing to us when we forgive, so encourage them to tell the other person, “God forgives and I forgive!,” then pass out tape for each student to put on the cut of their heart, mending it whole again.

Craft/activity idea #2: To focus on each student’s need to forgive or be forgiven, direct each student to make a reminder of the video and brick activity by cutting a heart out of red paper and writing “God forgives and I forgive” on it. Invite them to write or draw on the back of the heart the different things and/or people that they will forgive or ask forgiveness of, at Forgiveness Vespers.

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Teachers of elementary-aged students through teens may find one (or more!) of these “Be the Bee” videos helpful for a lesson on Forgiveness Sunday:

Forgiveness Vespers is the focus in this episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLFVJqHmAkY

Forgiveness unifies us as we learn in this episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsDRWB2emwc

Find four ways to forgive in this episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8pfuimXIM0

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Teachers of teens may want to take a look at this lesson on Forgiveness, when preparing a lesson about Forgiveness Sunday: https://www.orthodoxcatechismproject.org/grade-9/-/asset_publisher/sVl6TXix4npP/content/forgiveness-booklet

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Consider printing a copy of this (or sending the link, if you have email addresses for your students’ parents) home after a lesson on Forgiveness Sunday. It contains discussion questions and activity ideas that families can do together as they learn together about Forgiveness Sunday. https://www.goarch.org/documents/32058/2618758/familygospellesson_forgivenessunday.pdf/51c7c29a-e862-4a37-81c2-be6bcc922dd6

 

Lenten Sundays Series: The Sunday of the Last Judgement/Meatfare

This is the first in a series that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about that particular Sunday’s focus. We will share each blog early, so that you have time to read it before the forthcoming Sunday, in case you find any of those ideas helpful for your particular class. Although the Sunday of the Last Judgement is not part of Great Lent, it is significant because it is part of the process of preparing ourselves for Great Lent, so we are including it in the series.

Here’s a meditation on Judgement Sunday for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:

It is not yet Great Lent, but very soon it will be! We have already started the Tridodion. The Triodion is the service book with the special texts for the services for the part of the Church year that begins in the pre-Lenten period and goes all the way through Holy Week. The canons for Matins during all of these weeks have three odes: hence the name Tri-odion.

We have been mentally preparing for Great Lent with the Sunday of the Prodigal Son and the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee. Now here we are, one week from Great Lent, and the Triodion directs us to read from the Gospel of St. Matthew. In Matthew 25:31-46, we read (New King James Version):

31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did itto one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’

44 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

This Gospel reading is about the Last Judgement and what will happen then. But if we look at it closely, it gives us a good idea of what SHOULD be happening in our lives now so that we know that we have done our best, and we are ready when the Final Judgement day is here.

The passage talks about Jesus dividing the sheep from the goats. If you’re not familiar with the ways of these animals, here’s the general idea of how they function: sheep are more likely to do what they’re told and, together, they follow the shepherd. Goats are much more independent: they’d rather eat whatever they want and go wherever they want, on their own, without paying attention to the person in charge of their care. One glimpse at the sheep and goats in this way leads us to thinking “well, that’s easily taken care of! I want to be a sheep, so I’ll just follow God and do what I’m supposed to do. Simple!”

But is it really simple? The rest of the passage goes on to describe what each group did during their lifetime. They didn’t just show up at the Judgement and arbitrarily get assigned as a sheep or goat. Their entire lifetime of choices judges them, showing whether or not they were following Christ. At the judgement, no excuses in the world were able to change their designation. But at every moment of their life, they had the chance to do so.

So what choices did the “sheep” make that caused them to be judged as “sheep”? What did they do to show that they are followers? St. Matthew records our Lord saying that these people were the ones who gave food and drink to Christ. They took Him in. They clothed Him. They visited Him when He was sick and in prison.

And when the “sheep” are surprised (they don’t remember doing these things to Christ), He reminds them that whatever they did to the least of these, they’ve done to Him. Anytime they have reached out to someone who needed help, they reached out to Christ. Any good gifts they have given, they’ve given to Him.

The “goats” on the other hand, have done none of this. When they are surprised at their judgement, Christ reminds them of the opportunities they’ve had and what they chose. He reminds them that each person they’ve met is His icon, made in His image, and they’ve chosen to turn away or ignore Him by ignoring and not helping them.

So, how are we measuring up with this? If today ends up actually being the Judgement Day, what will our life’s choices show about how we care – or don’t care – for Christ? As we approach Judgement Sunday, let’s each take some time to evaluate how we’re doing. Who has God placed in our life who needs help? How are we doing with helping them? Are we seeing Christ in them, or do we see them as a nuisance? If we truly love Christ, we will also love those around us, and we will treat them as the icon of Christ that they are.

Oh Lord, have mercy on us, and show us how to better love others. Not so that we receive earthly rewards or “check it off of our list” or even so we are counted as one of your sheep: but rather so that these precious ones which you have placed in our life receive the love, care, and support that You deserve.

As you prepare to teach your students about Judgement Sunday, pray that they will be ready to love those around them, especially as we prepare to begin Great Lent. Here are a few resources that you may find helpful to use as you prepare to teach your students about Judgement Sunday:

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Listen to this Sunday’s Gospel reading told in simple terms for younger children, and read from the Gospel for older children, at https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/letusattend. Find 5 levels of printable pages with questions for related discussions at http://ww1.antiochian.org/christianeducation/letusattend.

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Teachers of a variety of ages may want to take a look at this (non-Orthodox) lesson, or at least at the suggested group games and the many learning printables at the end of the lesson. Perhaps something here will help you plan a lesson on the parable of the sheep and the goats as you teach about Judgement Sunday. https://www.sermons4kids.com/sheep_or_goats.htm

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Students of all ages may enjoy watching this simply-illustrated telling of the parable of the sheep and the goats as part of a lesson about Judgement Sunday: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iWSkdx-XwWY
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For young students, or a class that loves to move:
After a lesson on Judgement Sunday and the parable of the sheep and the goats, help to make the lesson practical for young students. Bring a stuffed sheep to class and stuffed goat. Place them on different sides of the room. Offer suggestions of ways that kids can love (or not) and respond to (or ignore) others around them. (You may want to create these little story scenarios before class, unless you can think of them on your feet. Something like this: “Izzy sees that Jo has a nice stuffed dog, so he grabs the dog so that he can play with it.” or “Carmen is about to open her lollipop when she notices Frankie crying. She takes the lollipop to him and gives it to him.”) After you make each suggestion, encourage the kids to vote for whether that was a “sheep” way to react or a “goat” way. They vote by physically moving to one side or the other, to stand with the sheep or the goat. After everyone has voted, talk about their judgement. How do they think God would judge that person? Ask the students to consider which one they want to be at the Last Judgement. Give them an outline of a sheep, and let them draw or write some ideas of how they will work on being a better sheep, in the sheep’s “wool.” (Here’s a sheep printable that you could use.)

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For older students, or a class that loves to create:
To prepare your students for Judgement Sunday, tell them the parable of the sheep and the goats. Discuss the parable and what it means. Then help your students each make their own cardstock sheep and a goat. As you share ideas of ways that kids can love and respond to (or not) others, students hold up the animal that they see reflected in that action (or lack thereof). Talk about their choices, and how they think God would view each situation.
Suggested printable for the sheep: http://kidzactivities.net/cotton-ball-sheep-craft/

And for the goats, check out this one.

Encourage your students to write their own list of sheep-like and goat-like behavior inside each animal, then to take the animals home and put them somewhere where they’ll see them all week, and be reminded to work on being a good sheep instead of a goat.

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For tweens and/ or teens:

In preparation for Judgement Sunday, read Matthew 25:31-46. What does that scripture mean to each member of your class? Do they find it soothing or frightening? Why? Present the class with a pile of articles you’ve clipped from the newspaper or printed from online sources. (Be sure to include some “good news/sheep”-type stories and some “bad news/bad choices/goat”-type stories.) Have each student select one article, read it, and judge for themselves whether the story is about sheep or goats. They can share with one other student, and be ready to defend their answer; or you can invite each student to share with the whole class. Offer some quiet time for students to react to this parable in a creative way. How do they feel about the parable? Where would they like to find themselves at the last judgement? What can they do now, each day, to be found there? Perhaps they’d like to write about it, or draw, or create something related to it. Include a few minutes at the end of class for any student to share what they’ve created, then pray and ask God to help each of you to remember to love and see Christ in everyone around them, and to make sheep-like choices.

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Bonus post: as we approach Great Lent, you may want to see if Pascha Passports would be something you’d like to use in your Sunday Church School class. Pascha Passports take their readers on the journey to Pascha, with descriptions of the “destinations” along the way. At each “destination” (Lenten services, confession, the Jesus Prayer, Lenten retreat, and other important parts of the Lenten journey), travelers are given a stamp (beautiful icon sticker) to place in their passport with the destination information. What a beautiful, pocket-sized way for children to mark the passage of the Lenten season, and embrace the journey! These passports would beautifully support lessons related to the Lenten season and could be easily incorporated into your Sunday Church School classroom. Find the passports, stamps, and other materials in quantities for parishes or church schools here:

https://lenten-embassy.myshopify.com/collections/frontpage

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Added bonus post:

Church School Teachers with young students may be interested to know about these brand new resources for lessons about Lent and Holy Week.
“Color Your Way Into Pascha” offers pages for little ones to color, from the Triumph of Orthodoxy through Pentecost. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1796731684
“Color Your Way Through Holy Week” offers coloring pages for each day of Holy Week. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1796742805/

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And, for your own growth during Great Lent, there is this possibility: Y2AM has created the “Live the Word Bible Study Guide,” a daily study based on the Sundays of the Triodion period. This free guide offers 100+ pages of explanations, quotes from the Fathers, and study questions to help you learn from the readings for the next 10 Sundays. Y2AM created this resource to help you to make the most of Great Lent. Find more information (and the link to download your free copy) here: https://blogs.goarch.org/blog/-/blogs/free-live-the-word-bible-study-guide-for-the-triodion

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger

The Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education’s Staff Assistant for Social Networking, Kristina Wenger, shares some of her side of the story behind the book which she co-authored with her friend Elissa Bjeletich, as well as a few gleanings from the book itself.

It began with an invitation from an online friend, Elissa Bjeletich, who I had met in person just weeks before the invitation came. The invitation went something like this: “I’m thinking about writing a daily meditation for families for Great Lent. Will you help me?”

I was tired. The previous twelve months had drained me. They included a failed business endeavor and the ensuing financial strains; the engagement and marriage of our daughter to our wonderful son-in-law; both kids moving out of our home; 3 trips to other parts of the country to help them get settled (one of them moved twice); additional responsibilities at work to be completed in the same amount of work time; and then an extended illness over Christmas. I felt that I had nothing left to give to the world when this invitation came.

But it came, and I was a little star-struck, to be honest. I had admired Elissa’s work from afar for years, and was tickled to have actually met her in person. And then she reached out and asked me to help her? Unthinkable, and yet there it was! So I stretched through my exhaustion and considered her invitation. How could I say no? Although I was depleted, I knew this project would be good for my soul and I wanted to work with Elissa. So, empty but honored, I accepted, and then the work began.

And it was work. In one month’s time, we chose a name, pitched to Ancient Faith Radio the idea of a podcast special for families, were granted approval, created a website, and wrote and recorded the first three weeks’ worth of daily Lenten meditations. For each episode, we brainstormed together, and shared the writing (Elissa did the bulk of it, thank God: she has more writing experience than I). Early on, we decided that it would be best to offer each meditation at two levels, one for older children and one for younger ones. We each recorded a level for the podcast: Elissa did the older children’s, and I, the younger.

We wrote each meditation with the desire to care for – and encourage – growth in the garden of our own hearts, praying that somehow God would bless our efforts and allow others to grow along with us. We resonate well with St. John Chrysostom’s exhortation, “Fasting is wonderful because it tramples our sins like a dirty weed, while it cultivates and raises truth like a flower.” We hope that our writing will help readers to embrace such an attitude about fasting (and Great Lent in general), so that truth can grow and bloom in their lives.

We continued to work away at the project throughout Lent of 2018, and by the time Holy Week rolled around, we had finally finished. We went from idea to completion in 2 and a half months (Pascha was only 83 days after Elissa extended the invitation to me!). By the grace of God, we were able to write and record fifty different meditations, each at two levels, in that time.

As Pascha approached, we did not feel that the project was finished. We had grown so much throughout the experience, and we really enjoy working together. We decided to continue our work with a weekly podcast, and Ancient Faith once again accepted our proposal. The continuing podcast is aimed at whole families, and we record it together each week. You can listen in at https://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/tendingthegarden if you are so inclined.

We thought that perhaps our Lenten meditations could become a book, so we approached Ancient Faith Publishing, proposing the idea. They accepted our proposal, so we began adapting and rewriting the older children’s version in a way that would work for entire families to read and discuss together. This book is the result.

“Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” offers one meditation each day for every day of Great Lent and Holy Week, including a final meditation for Pascha. Each week is themed as follows: Forgiveness, Orthodoxy, Prayer, The Cross/Humility, The Ladder/Almsgiving, Fasting/St. Mary of Egypt, and Holy Week and Pascha. (We loosely based our themes on this calendar of lenten activities which I wrote several years ago: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/great_lent_and_holy_week_activity_calendar.pdf.) Beginning each Sunday, every day’s meditation relates in some way to the theme for the week. Some days feature a scripture and thoughts on that scripture. On other days, we learn from the life of a saint. Every meditation concludes with a few questions, then a discussion question that allows the readers to make the book their own by talking together about how to apply that day’s lesson.

The book concludes with a fairly extensive appendix of related ideas for each week’s theme. There are craft and activity suggestions that could be done every week, if the readers are so inclined. The appendix begins with suggestions of ways to count down to Pascha. These countdown ideas are intended to help solidify and mark the passage of time in a way that can help young children for whom time is rather nebulous. Following those suggestions are ideas centered around each theme. As we say in the book, some weeks the reader might want to (and have time to) do some of these things. Other times, they will not. Readers will know which (if any) of these ideas will help their family, and can use the appendix accordingly. At our website, there are a few printable pages and supplemental resources related to some of these ideas. They can be found at https://tending-the-garden.com/supplemental-resources-for-the-book-tending-the-garden-of-our-hearts-daily-lenten-meditations-for-families/.

I am so grateful to God for His mercy and strength that extends beyond our exhaustion. Perhaps it is when we are most depleted that we are best able to allow Him to work in and through our lives. Certainly it is then that we know His kindness, for He extends grace when we feel that we have nothing left to give. This book (and the project as a whole) is evidence of that, for me. The project was a lot of work, but for me personally, it has also been incredibly restorative and helpful. Glory to God!

I want to thank Elissa for inviting me on this journey with her. Together we invite you and your family to join us, and grow alongside us. It is our prayer that “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” will be a help to those families who read it throughout Great Lent.

Although the book is written for families to share and walk through together, we are sharing it with the Sunday Church School community for two reasons: 1. It would make a great (very early!) Pascha gift for your Sunday Church School students to share with their family. 2. If you as a Sunday Church School teacher read through the book, perhaps some of the meditations will inspire you. It could be that some of them could be used in Sunday Church School as part of a lesson.

Purchase your copy of the book here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/tending-the-garden-of-our-hearts-daily-lenten-meditations-for-families/

Here are a few gleanings from the book:

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“Have you ever prayed for someone who was mean to you? God asks us to pray for our enemies, because mean people really need our prayers to help their hearts soften so they will repent, and also because when we pray for someone we begin to see them as God sees them. We begin to love them and to feel sad for them because they are so twisted up and mean and unhappy.” (p. 36, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

***

“We Orthodox love to light candles at Pascha and throughout the year. They provide light for our services, but they also remind us of the fire of God. Our God is light and truth—and He comes to us as a fire that burns away sin but does not consume us. When we light candles, we are reminded who our God is.” (p. 65, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

***

“Imagine if you were to take a piece of clay and rub it in your warm hands. The clay begins hard and almost solid and impenetrable, like our hearts, but as we work it with our warm hands, the clay becomes soft and flexible. God’s warm presence does that for us; He transforms the hardness of our hearts into softness. And just like that clay, our hearts might just grow hard again if we stop praying for a while, but simply returning to prayer begins to warm us up again.” (p. 83, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

***

“Sometimes we expect healing to look a certain way, but in fact what God sends is different from our expectations and much better for us. Like Naaman, when we come to the Lord for healing, if we can humble ourselves we will find that God sends both spiritual and physical healing.” (pp. 119-120, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

***

“When we have become non-possessive (meaning that we have stopped caring so much about owning things), we trust completely that God will send whatever we need, as we need it. Instead of trying to own everything we will ever need and holding it tight, we turn to God. We trust that if we need something, He will send it. We pray to God for our needs, but we don’t mention them to anyone else because of our complete faith that God will send what we need. And then when someone gives us what we need, we thank God and recognize that it was really God who sent it.” (p. 145, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

***

“…It is never too late. No matter what kind of life we are living, we can truly repent, and God will help us. While some saints are simply saintly from their birth, others spend years of their lives in sin and do terrible things. But God loves the sinners too, and He will help us in our struggles if we repent.” (p. 174, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

***

“We don’t know when the Bridegroom will come—the Second Coming of Christ could happen today, or it may not happen for a long time. We just don’t know. But we do know that we have today. Today we can pray, today we can fast, today we can show love to the people around us, softening our hearts and building up that supply of oil. When the time comes, no one can give us soft hearts—we will have to work on our hearts now, by loving God and loving one another.” (p. 208, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

***

“On this Holy Thursday, may we all think about how Jesus gives Himself to us. We are not worthy of Him, and yet He comes to live in our hearts. May He live inside of us in Holy Communion, and may we follow His example of humble service and great love.” (p. 214, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

***

“Tending the Garden of Our Hearts” co-author Kristina Wenger shares three ideas of lenten countdowns which are featured in the book:

 

 

 

***
Blogger and beautifully creative mom Sarah Gingrich created printable ornaments for each day’s meditation. They can be found in her review of the book, here: https://thelivescript.wordpress.com/2019/02/25/lent-a-hand/

Gleanings from a Book: “Raising Them Right” by St. Theophan the Recluse

St. Theophan the Recluse may have lived a reclusive life, but his was a life of prayer and asceticism, and that closeness to God granted him much wisdom. His writings and teachings have been recorded, preserved, and translated from the Russian so that we are able to read them and learn from them. “Raising them Right” is a collection of his writings and teachings for and about young people, intended for youth and those who raise or teach them. It is a small but powerful collection of teachings.

“Raising them Right” begins with a few pages telling about the life of St. Theophan the Recluse. That is followed by 7 chapters of his teachings: “The Christian Adult”, “Baptism: the Adult and the Child”, “The Developing Child”, “Forming Attitudes”, “The Years of Youth”, “Understanding a Young Person”, and finally “Preserving God’s Grace”. Each chapter contains timeless wisdom. Even though St. Theophan was born more than 200 years ago, his words are applicable to adults and children today.

This book is small but wise. We recommend that parents and teachers alike read it, ponder its words, and allow St. Theophan to help us in our task of training children. As we learn, may we truly raise the next generation of Orthodox Christians right.

St. Theophan, please pray for us and for our students!

 

Purchase “Raising Them Right” here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/raising-them-right-a-saints-advice-on-raising-children/. The ebook and audiobook will soon be available, as well.

Although the book is about raising children, quite a lot of it pertains to teachers and young people. Here are a few quotes from the book which we thought would be helpful to our teaching community, either as a challenge/encouragement to teachers, or to be used in a discussion with older students:

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“One may ask, how does one reach the point where the desire is born to walk toward God on the path of Christ? What does one do so that the law will imprint itself on the heart, and the sowing and development of the Christian life are different in essence from the sowing and development of natural life, owing to the special character of the Christian life and its relation to our nature. A man is not born a Christian, but becomes such after birth. The seed of Christ falls on the soil of a heart that is already beating.” (p. 13, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“One of the first tricks of the enemy against us is the idea of trusting in oneself: that is, if not renouncing, then at least not feeling the need for the help of grace. The enemy as it were says: ‘Do not go to the light where they wish to give you some kind of new powers. You are good just the way you are!’ And a man gives himself over to repose. But in the meantime the enemy is throwing a rock (some kind of unpleasantness) at one; others he is leading into a slippery place (the deception of the passions); for yet others he is strewing with flowers a closed noose (deceptively good conditions). Without looking around, a man strives to go further and further, and does not guess that he is falling down lower and lower until finally he goes to the very depths of evil, to the threshold of hell itself.” (p. 24, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“The Lord gives grace freely. But He asks that a man seek it and receive it with desire, dedicating himself entirely to God.” (p. 27, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“…so, let the child be surrounded by sacred forms, objects of all kinds, and let everything that can corrupt in examples, depictions, or things be put away. But later, and for all the time that follows, one must keep the same order. It is well known how powerfully corrupt images act upon the soul, no matter in what form they might touch it! How unfortunate is the child who, closing his eyes, or being left alone and going within himself, is stifled by a multitude of improper images—vain, tempting, breathing of the passions. This is the same thing for
the soul as smoke is for the head.” (pp 46-47, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“The most effective means for the education of true taste in the heart is a church-centered life, in which all children in their upbringing must be unfailingly kept. Sympathy for everything sacred, pleasure in remaining in its midst for the sake of quietness and warmth, separation from what is bright and attractive in worldly vanity—all this cannot better be imprinted in the heart (than by a church-centered life). The church building, church singing, icons—these are the first objects of fine art in content and power.” (p.54, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“And this is the chief aim of a Christian upbringing: that a man as a result of this might say within himself that he is a Christian. And if, when he comes to full awareness of himself he will say, ‘I am a Christian, obliged by my Savior and God to live in such a way so as to be vouchsafed the blessed communion with Him and with His chosen ones in the future life,’ then in the very midst of his independent existence or the unique, rational ordering of his life, he will place for himself as his first and essential duty to preserve in an independent way
and to warm the spirit of piety in which he previously walked under the guidance of others.” (p.60, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“A young blossom planted in a place where the wind blows on it from all sides only endures a little and then dries up; grass on which people frequently walk does not grow; a part of the body which is subjected to friction for a long time becomes numb. The same thing happens to the heart and to the good dispositions in it if one is given over to day-dreams or to empty reading or to enjoyments.” (p.69, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“It goes without saying that good naturally strives towards good and avoids the evil; there is a certain taste for this in the heart. But again, how often it happens that simplicity of heart is enticed by cunning. Thus, every young person is rightly advised to be careful in the choice of a friend. It is good not to conclude friendship
until the friend has been tested.” (p.72, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“The educator should go through all the degrees of Christian perfection in order later to know how to behave in the midst of action, to be capable of noticing which way the students are going, and then to act upon them with patience, successfully, powerfully, and fruitfully. This should be a group of the most pure, God-chosen, and holy people. Of all holy works, the education of children is the most holy.” (pp. 83-84, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“But the chief form of moral perfection which belongs to one who has preserved himself whole in the years of youth is a certain unshakability in virtue for his whole life. Samuel remained firm in the presence of all the temptations that scandalized in the house of Eli and in the midst of the agitations of the people in society. Joseph in the midst of his evil brothers, in the house of Potiphar, in prison and in glory, equally preserved his soul inviolate… A right outlook is converted, as it were, into nature, and if sometimes it is a little violated, soon it returns to its original state. Therefore in the lives of saints we find for the most part those who have preserved their moral purity and the grace of baptism in youth.” (pp. 86-87, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

***

“God is pleased most of all by what is offered first: the first fruits, the firstborn of men and animals, and therefore also by the first years of youth. An immaculate youth is a pure sacrifice.” (p.87 , “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

On Learning from the Wisdom of the Three Holy Hierarchs

It is the time of the year when we are celebrating the Three Holy Hierarchs: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom. Do you know why we celebrate the three of them together? If you don’t know, or need a refresher, check out the story here, and share it with your students, so that they know the story as well! https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/learning-about-the-saints-the-three-holy-hierarchs-january-30/

The Three Holy Hierarchs, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. John Chrysostom are full of so much wisdom, and they each have contributed so much to the life of the Church. All three loved learning and spent their life continuing to learn not just the Scriptures and the ways of God, but secular wisdom, as well. Their love for learning helped them to become excellent teachers. As we prepare to celebrate their life of faithfulness to God, let us also ponder some of their wisdom, which, though hundreds of years old, is still applicable to modern life.

Some of these quotes will be great conversation starters for a Sunday Church School class. As you read them, decide which ones would be best for your class to discuss, and find a time to share them. They may fit with another lesson, or you may think of related scriptures, Bible stories, or saint stories to share along with the quote. Perhaps you’ll decide to make a lesson featuring their wisdom around the time we celebrate them. We offer a suggestion of how to use each quote as part of a lesson. Or, if you choose to just occasionally share one of their quotes, your students may make their own connections to scriptures or Bible/saint stories! However it works out, you and your students will be amazed to find that, although these hierarchs were on earth so many years ago, their wisdom is still perfectly applicable to us today! May we all learn from them!

If your students enjoy coloring, you may want to check out these free printable pages which can give their fingers something to do as you talk about some of the wisdom of these Holy Hierarchs: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/3-5-years-old/three-hierarchs (scroll down to find a printable page of all three together) or https://sites.google.com/view/sparks-for-orthodox-kids/coloring-pages/january (each one, individually)

Holy Hierarchs of the Church, please pray for us and for our salvation!

 

The quotes shared here were gathered from OrthodoxChurchQuotes.com, BrainyQuote.com, AZQuotes.com, and Goodreads.com.

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Orthodox Pebbles has just released these wonderful printables related to the Three Holy Hierarchs: https://orthodoxpebbles.com/saints/three-hierarchs/

***

“A psalm implies serenity of soul; it is the author of peace, which calms bewildering and seething thoughts. For, it softens the wrath of the soul, and what is unbridled it chastens. A psalm forms friendships, unites those separated, conciliates those at enmity. Who, indeed, can still consider as an enemy him with whom he has uttered the same prayer to God?…For, a psalm is the work of angels, a heavenly institution, the spiritual incense.” ~ Saint Basil the Great

Ask each member of your class to share their favorite Psalm, as well as why it is their favorite. Look those Psalms up and read them together. Test them against St. Basil’s quote. Do they prove it? Talk about when we pray the Psalms. You may even want to read through some of the services to see what Psalm(s) you find there!

***
“As a fish cannot swim without water, and as a bird cannot fly without air, so a Christian cannot advance a single step without Christ.” ~ Saint Gregory the Theologian

 

For this discussion, you could bring a fish or a bird to the classroom, if you have one as a pet. Ask the students to consider if a fish can swim if there’s no water, or if a bird can fly without air. Ask each student to try walking without stepping on anything. Can they go anywhere? Why or why not? What was St. Gregory telling us here about the importance of having Christ in our life? Together make a list of things that true Christians do (and do not do). Mark the ones for which we need Christ, and have a student explain how we need Him for each.

***
“When, then, you make the sign of the cross on the forehead, arm yourself with a saintly boldness, and reinstall your soul in its old liberty; for you are not ignorant that the cross is a prize beyond all price. Consider what is the price given for your ransom, and you will never more be slave to any man on earth. This reward and ransom is the cross. You should not then, carelessly make the sign on the forehead, but you should impress it on your heart with the love of a fervent faith. Nothing impure will dare to molest you on seeing the weapon, which overcometh all things.” ~ Saint John Chrysostom

 

(A little background on this quote: for the first 300 years or so of Christianity, the sign of the cross was made on the forehead with the thumb or a finger. That’s why St. John talks about making it on the forehead.) Invite students to react to St. John’s quote. Can they give any examples from their own life or from stories that they’ve heard, of times when the sign of the cross gave “saintly boldness”? Why does St. John tell us not to make the sign carelessly? How can we make it – as he describes – fervently? What do your students think of the last part of his statement, that it is a weapon that overcomes all things? Challenge them to look for opportunities to fervently, respectfully make the sign of the cross in the week ahead.

***

“The sun penetrates crystal and makes it more dazzling. In the same way, the sanctifying Spirit indwells in souls and makes them more radiant. They become like so many powerhouses beaming grace and love around them.” ~ Saint Basil the Great

“As God illumines all people equally with the light of the sun, so do those who desire to imitate God let shine an equal ray of love on all people. For wherever love disappears, hatred immediately appears in its place. And if God is love, then hatred is the devil. Therefore as one who has love has God within himself, so he who has hatred within himself nurtures the devil within himself.” ~ Saint Basil the Great

 

These quotes by St. Basil go together to some degree. Either or both would easily be illustrated with a prism and/or a magnifying glass and some sunlight (or light from a flashlight if it’s not sunny). Or place a mirror in water to reflect the light and create a beautiful rainbow. Show one or more of these ways to reflect light, and talk about the beauty and intensity of the light that shines through. Then introduce the quote(s) from St. Basil. How does God’s love shine through us to those around us when we imitate Him and let His spirit dwell in us? To remind your students to be ready to reflect His light, frame small mirrors before class, one for each student. Allow each student to decorate their frame with something reflective: for example, pieces of old CDs, small glass beads, or glass gems (adhered with very strong glue or double-stick adhesive).
***

“Remember God more often than you breathe.” ~ Saint Gregory the Theologian

 

Before you share this quote, set a timer for one minute. Tell your students to count how many times they breathe in that minute, then start the timer and have them count. After the minute is up, ask them to share their findings. Then ask how many times they thought of God during that minute. Remind them that every breath is from Him, and that we really should thank Him for every breath. Then share the quote. How many times should they have remembered God during that minute? Some people pray the Jesus prayer with every breath. As they breathe in, they think, “O Lord Jesus Christ Son of God.” And as they breathe out, they think, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” If we did that, would it help us to live closer to what St. Gregory said? Can anyone give an example of a time when it would be especially good to calmly pray the Jesus Prayer while breathing slowly?

***

“The bee is more honored than other animals, not because she labors, but because she labors for others.” ~ Saint John Chrysostom
As you share honey sticks with your students, share this quote. Tell the class that one bee can make 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its entire life. See if you can figure out how many bees’ lifetime work you each just ate (you’ll need an extra honey stick and a measuring spoon for this). Ask the class what the bees got back for their hard work to make that honey you just ate. Who do bees work for? Themselves or others? Share St. John’s quote with the class. Ask them what they think St. John was trying to tell us. Why is it important that the bee works for others, not for themselves? How does this apply to us? Challenge each student to find ways to “bee” this week: secretly working for others instead of for themselves. No one else may notice, but God will see! (You could follow up with this the next week, with small printed bee cards like the printable honeybee place cards found here: http://www.our-everyday-art.com/2011/10/honeybee-printables.html. Have each student write down one thing that they did for someone else on each place card, and not sign it. Hang these up at a spot in your classroom, and keep a basket of cards there for future deeds.) The idea is for your class to work together, just like bees do, to help others, and to keep track of some of that work in this way. Not so each student gets their moment of glory, but that all of you together can see that you are making a difference in the world, one little bee-laboring at a time!

Gleanings from a Book: “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle

Author’s note: Long ago I committed to reading fiction that strengthens my faith instead of dismissing it. I am fine with reading stories of people who struggle with life or with what they believe, as long as they are struggling towards God, not ignoring or shying away from Him. Because of these self-imposed limitations when it comes to reading adult-targeted fiction, I have limited my reading mostly to Christian fiction and classics. Suffice it to say that I have read a fair amount of both over the course of my five decades.

In all of my reading, I have yet to read a book like this one. “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle is Christian fiction at its best. The characters are so believable that you expect them to step right out of the book so you can marvel at the sunrise together, or share a cup of tea. Their struggles are real, as is their growth: painfully real, as is our human experience. Their story is carefully and beautifully told. This book is written as though it were already a classic.

Tuggle offers her readers a glimpse into mid-20th-century rural Pennsylvanian life, with its clash of cultures and challenges. Characters include a host of rural-minded Americans, a handful of hippies, a pair of Hungarians, a few Romanian “gypsies”, some Orthodox Christians, and more. (One character has Amish roots, but this is anything but another “Amish Christian Fiction” book: his cultural heritage is far from the focus of the book.) The characters interact with believable honesty, by turns disagreeing and misunderstanding; then accepting and helping each other as would be expected in a rural community such as theirs. (I live in Pennsylvania and married into a rural Pennsylvanian family, so I am familiar with such a community.)

Tuggle’s writing is lyrical and poetic. She refuses to spoon-feed her readers, instead inviting them to mull over the story, perhaps re-read sections, and ponder the reading. Her expertly-crafted sentences are clad in words befitting their message, saying just enough to allow the reader to find the pieces of the many puzzles in the story. Tuggle’s words spin ordinary farm life into gold, without sugar-coating the dirt.

“Lights on the Mountain” is filled with purposeful pain, glazed with moments of joy. How else could the story of a boy-becoming-a-man be genuinely told? The readers follow pensive Jess Hazel from his late boyhood through the moment when he fully embraces his adult responsibilities. Constant to his tale is the everyday glory of life on the farm. A host of colorful characters appear in different parts of his life, and not until the end of the book does the reader fully understand each one’s significance. True to life, some parts of this account leave the reader hanging until the parts come full circle, and there is beautiful completion.

This book is an interesting blend of thoughtful words, difficult subject matter, complex characters, deep faith, and simple glories. Readers will come away from reading “Lights on the Mountain” knowing that their time was well spent. I’ll warrant that many of them will read the book again, to revisit the characters and gain further insight into the puzzle pieces that they missed the first time around. I am particular with my fiction selection, and I will be among those re-readers.

By the way, according to my research, Tsura is a Romanian name. It means “light of dawn.” You’ll find that interesting when you read the book.

 

Purchase your own copy of “Lights on the Mountain” here: https://paracletepress.com/products/lights-on-the-mountain

Watch the trailer for the book here: https://youtu.be/VfCLI998hh4

 

While this book is a work of fiction, the insights that it offers will encourage you as a Christian, a spouse, a parent, and a Sunday Church School teacher. Here are a few gleanings from the book, to offer you a tiny taste:

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“No doubt his father was right. Clyde always was. The beam of light probably was an extraordinary reflection of the everyday sun, but did that mean it couldn’t also be more? It might also be a kind of ladder, the means for God to get down to this patch of soil Hazels had been working since old Penn first claimed these woods and set things back to the way they used to be.” (pp. 19-20, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“Now that he knew how it was a man should live, it was clear that it was no more than his lot to do so. He still grieved, still felt acutely the pain of his aloneness. But there was a great deal of solace, he found, in taking Clyde’s approach to existence. Acceptance had its own plain reward. To be sure, living in such a way, a man’s sense of wonder was muted. But so was his sense of tragedy. Jess did not pine now for the old joy or wish for knowledge beyond his ken. And except for that which he now put in himself, and that which ought to be placed (with caution) in his fellow man, he did not long for faith. He did not long at all. Or he did but did not know it. And then, while he was longing without being aware that he longed, Gracie came to him. In the cool
of an evening. Almost as if she’d been sent. As if someone knew it was not good for man to be alone.” (pp. 42-43, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“For if there was anything he knew about Gracie Morozov after three months of loving her, it was that she was serious about God. It wasn’t a thing she talked about endlessly like some religious girls Jess had known—she seemed to take her faith as a natural gift, much as she did the shine and gloss of her hair or the unusual hue of her eyes, and rarely spoke of it directly, but he would have to be a fool not to see how it affected everything she said and did.” (pp. 65-66, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“She was quiet for a minute, thinking. Then she said, ‘I haven’t met Mr. Zook. But he’s human, right? And don’t we all suffer? We all have weaknesses. Injuries. Battle scars. Sins. Even the Amish. Straw hats and horse-drawn buggies don’t buy paradise. Or else none of us would need a savior.’”(p. 102, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“It seemed to Jess that he was being humbled on purpose, as if having stood for a few brief moments before the icon of Christ, he was now somehow standing within it, viewing himself through those all-seeing eyes. And from this view it was pretty clear that he had acquired more than just his father’s so-called natural way of taking his place the world. He had also acquired his stiff-neckedness. ‘There’s a way seems right to man,’ he remembered Orville Hays saying, ‘and oft times it isn’t.’ Jess wondered then if this was to be the response to his prayer. (If indeed such silent groaning was prayer.) God, after all these years, speaking to him in voices he could recognize. Or (and this was a sorrowful thought, weighted with regret) it could be that God had been speaking all along, and Jess only could not hear because he was not with any real amount of honesty listening.” (p. 184, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“Silence is a good teacher, but most of us make poor students.” (p. 210, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
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“‘There is a prayer we make to Christ,’ Father Daniel said, his voice growing tenderer, as if he’d heard Jess’s thoughts, knew the reason for his sigh. ‘“Wound my heart with love for you.” Is that not a strange request? It’s madness! And yet, don’t we understand it, you and me? At least a little. From the moment I saw you, I said to myself, now here’s a pilgrim I recognize. A fellow wounded. He has heard tales of a singular healing salve and has been limping about the earth to find out if one truly exists. Tonight, you’ve made a discovery. Yes, this miraculous ointment does exist. And what is it? More madness! More sweet pain to be endured. More sorrow mingled with joy. It’s love.’”(p. 214, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
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