Tag Archives: Learning

On the Liturgical Year for Teachers: The Time of Easter (Pascha) and Pentecost (part 6 of 7)

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

The time of Easter and Pentecost is a season of great rejoicing in the Orthodox Christian Church. In this part of the liturgical year, we celebrate Our Lord’s glorious resurrection, His ascension, and preparing our hearts for His sending of the Holy Spirit to us at Pentecost. Each of these events has a feast of its own in our liturgical year, because of their great importance.

Easter (as it is called by the monk who wrote “The Year of Grace of the Lord,” though many of us refer to this feast as Pascha) is a feast in its own category: it is the Feast of Feasts, and is too important to be included with the other 12 feasts of the liturgical year. And rightly so, for it celebrates a victory like no other! “Easter is… the centre, the heart of the Christian year. It is on its date that the whole liturgical cycle depends, because this determines the moveable feasts of the calendar.” (1, pp. 176-177). “The celebration of Easter in the Orthodox Church…is not a dramatic representation of the ‘first Easter morning.’ There is no ‘sunrise service’ since the Easter matins and the Divine liturgy are celebrated together in the first dark hours of the first day of the week in order to give men the experience of the ‘new creation’ of the world, and to allow them to enter mystically into the New Jerusalem which shines eternally with the glorious light of Christ, overcoming the perpetual night of evil and destroying the darkness of this mortal and sinful world…” (2, p. 105) “The day of the Resurrection has always been a day of profound joy and the festival of festivals.” (3)

To help us recall the importance of this feast, during the week immediately following Pascha, the doors on the iconostasis stay open and we don’t prostrate ourselves or fast. “Easter week, in Greek, has a very beautiful name: ‘the Week of Renewal.’ …The Resurrection of Jesus tells us that we can be changed.” (1, p. 181) The troparion of the Resurrection is frequently sung during the time of Easter, which continues through the Ascension and on to the eve of Pentecost. (1)

The Feast of the Ascension falls 40 days after Pascha. This “is the day when, in liturgical terminology, we ‘take leave’ of the Easter feast. We commemorate the last day of the physical presence of the risen Christ amongst his disciples; and to honour this presence, to honour the Resurrection once more, the Church on this Wednesday repeats the service for Easter Sunday in its entirety.” (1, p. 198) The ascension of Our Lord is important in part because, in ascending, He took His fleshly body into heaven. He did not discard His physical body, but rather restored humanity completely by taking it with Him! “The ascension of Christ is his final physical departure from this world after the resurrection. It is the formal completion of his mission in this world as the Messianic Saviour. It is his glorious return to the Father who had sent hin into the world to accomplish the work that he had given him to do.” (2, p. 111)

The time of Easter leads right up to the eve of Pentecost, a week and a half after Ascension. The scriptures read in the liturgy on the eve of Pentecost remind us that, “As long as we live, there is still time to make the essential decision and obey the word which tells us, as it told Simon Peter, not to be concerned with what others do, but to concentrate ourselves wholly on the only true essential: ‘Follow thou me.’” (1, p. 204) The blessing of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives (thanks to Pentecost) makes that possible, but we are getting ahead of ourselves: we will discuss Pentecost in our next blog post!

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

May we learn more about the feasts of Pascha and the Ascension, so that we can celebrate them more joyously, and better teach our students about these important feasts of the liturgical year!

Footnotes:

1. A monk of the Eastern Church. The Year of Grace of the Lord. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; 2001.

  1. Fr. Thomas Hopko. The Orthodox Faith volume ii: Worship. Syosset, NY: OCA, 1972. Fifth printing, 1997.
    3. Calivas, Rev. Alciviadis C., Th.D., (1985, 8/13). “Orthodox Worship”. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/orthodox-worship

    Here are some related links, including ideas for teaching students about the time of Easter (Pascha) and Pentecost:

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The book featured in this blog post offers a plethora of information about each of the feasts, and can help you to prepare to teach your students about Pascha and the Ascension! https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/12/11/gleanings-from-a-book-heaven-meets-earth-celebrating-pascha-and-the-twelve-feasts-by-john-skinas/

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Find ideas for teaching your students about Pascha in this blog post: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/celebrating-the-feast-of-feasts-great-and-holy-pascha/

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This blog post offers resources Sunday Church School teachers may want to use when teaching their students about Pascha: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/04/29/pascha-celebration-resources-for-sunday-church-school-teachers/

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Teachers of middle-years students may want to consider discussing this book (which happens during Lent and finishes around the time of Pascha) with their students: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/05/27/gleanings-from-a-book-queen-abigail-the-wise-by-grace-brooks/

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Help your students learn what goes into their family’s Pascha basket (and why it is there!) with this educational resource: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2014/04/pascha-basket.html
You may want to send this printable home with them after your discussion: http://www.holy12.org/holy12/files/PaschaBasket.pdf

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Together as a class, discuss Paschal traditions in the parish and in your students’ homes. Read pages 23-24 of the article “How Orthodox People Celebrate the Feasts” in the Little Falcons Orthodox Children’s magazine Issue #31, available here:  http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2016_Backissues.pdf

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Find some ideas for teaching your class about the Feast of the Ascension here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/05/23/teaching-children-about-the-feast-of-the-ascension/

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Find additional suggestions for teaching about the Ascension here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/on-the-feast-of-the-ascension/

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Help your students to make these (free!) printable centerpieces for their prayer table or dinner table, for each feast: http://www.antiochian.org/1127698508

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Thou didst submit Thyself unto death,

O Thou deathless and immortal One,

then Thou didst destroy hell with Thy Godly power.

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

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

Footnotes:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gleanings From a Book: “Sasha and the Dragon” by Laura E. Wolfe

Author’s note: I would have loved to have read (and re-read) this book with my children when they were younger! “Sasha and the Dragon” is a powerful story of a boy who conquers his fears with the help of St. Michael the Archangel. Although it is a picture book, “Sasha and the Dragon” is appropriate for Orthodox Christians of many ages because of all that the book addresses. This story opens the door for conversations about how strange a new country feels to the person entering it; what to do when you are alone and afraid at night; the reality of the saints’ readiness to come to our aid if we ask them to; and how the light of Christ illumines our world when we invite Him to do so!


Sasha has just moved to New York City from Russia. He misses the familiarity of his old village near the river: its sights, smells, and sounds. He felt safe there, and close to God. His new home, however,  is filled with shadows and seemingly uncaring people. It is grey and cold, and no one seems to know or love God or His saints. Other boys his age seem to mock Sasha at every turn instead of befriending him. Even his new house is not a very comforting place: his Baba who used to sing to him lies still in a scary room at the end of the hall. Sasha is afraid of everything in New York City.


Night time is the scariest for Sasha. Even though he signs himself with the cross before going to bed, he always feels the grey, unfamiliar shadows of the city lurking. One night, as Sasha lies in bed trying to go to sleep, he hears sounds under his bed, which he discovers to be a huge dragon. To his dismay, the dragon comes out from beneath his bed. Sasha is terrified and just wants to hide under the covers. Instead, he finds the courage to do all the right things: he kisses the cross he is wearing and then prays for help! An icon of the Archangel Michael hangs on the wall by Sasha’s bed, and Sasha is confident of the Archangel’s help. He asks St. Michael to kill the dragon with his sword.

As the dragon approaches, St. Michael’s icon begins to radiate heavenly light into the dark room. He races out of the icon on his great red steed and kills the dragon with his sword. As he does so, the room is filled with peace and hope. Sasha drifts happily to sleep. The next morning he wakes to find a slash from the dragon’s claw still remaining in the floor of his room, covered with a golden feather from St. Michael’s wings.

That very morning Sasha begins to notice and enjoy New York’s colors and good smells. A scarlet feather drifts into his hand as he walks. When he meets up with two of the mocking boys, instead of cowering or retreating, he surprises them by offering the feather to them. Sasha even braves the spooky hallway to take the golden feather to his Baba. Her delighted smile encourages Sasha, and he begins to sing to her, for he is no longer afraid!

This story is a delight, and Nicholas Malara’s drawings fit it perfectly. The art in this book is part “normal” picture book, part superhero story. The figures that are the most realistic are the accurately styled icons found on some of the pages. The tone of the illustrations changes from gloomy greys and muted colors at the beginning of the story to cheery bright colors at the end. This change is clearly intentional, and it greatly strengthens the story.


“Sasha and the Dragon” is an excellent addition to an Orthodox Sunday Church School’s library. It has a great story which also presents multiple possibilities for classroom discussion. It can be used with students of varied age levels, because it offers opportunities to discuss so many different relevant topics for children of different ages.

“Sasha and the Dragon”  is available from Ancient Faith Publishing here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/sasha-and-the-dragon/


Here are a few discussion ideas and suggestions of ways to learn together with your students after reading “Sasha and the Dragon”:

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If you have younger students, consider bringing a few basic props to class when you share this story. After you have read it to the class, invite them to act it out as you re-read. Possible props: a beanie and/or jacket for “Sasha;” a head covering for his mom; head covering and blanket for Baba; shawls/hats/baskets/etc for other New Yorkers; hats for the “mean boys”; icon of St. Michael that someone can hold “in Sasha’s room”; blanket and pillow for Sasha’s bed; dark gloves and hoodie for “dragon”; plastic sword for “St. Michael”; a red feather; a “gold” feather (spray paint or spread glue on a feather, then sprinkle it with golden glitter)
After acting it out, talk together about the story and what we can learn from it. Help each student to create their own gold feather and/or St. Michael icon to put in their room to remind them of his constant watching and willingness to help if we ask him to do so.

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How does a new world feel to those entering it? Have you ever gone someplace completely different? Did those around you speak your language? Is anyone near you experiencing this right now? How can you help them feel most welcomed instead of making fun of them (as the boys did to Sasha in the book)?

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With middle-years or older students, talk about why many Russians immigrated to the United States around the time that “Sasha and the Dragon” appears to take place. Look online to find some ideas and additional information. (For example, https://www.ancestry.com/contextux/historicalinsights/russian-immigration-1800s offers a short description along with actual photographs.) Discuss what it would be like to come into a completely foreign place and try to live there. Then think of any refugees that you already know, or look into how you could connect with refugees who have recently settled in your area and may feel like Sasha did in the story. Brainstorm ways to make them feel at home. Select one of those ways and do it!

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“Sasha’s Dragon” features a little boy who has recently moved to New York. Perhaps he was a refugee. Help your students learn about what a refugee is (if the term is new to them), and how a refugee’s life changes radically when they arrive in their new place. This (non-Orthodox, but helpful) website suggests a activities and lessons you may wish to share with your students in a discussion about refugees: http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/teaching-resources.html

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Who is St. Michael? Learn more about him on the page dedicated to him in the back of “Sasha and the Dragon.” Look up other icons of him and compare them to the one in Sasha’s room. Read a real-life miracle that St. Michael and his spear caused to happen here: https://iconreader.wordpress.com/2012/09/07/archangel-michael-at-chonae-icon-of-a-miracle/

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Discuss the following with your Sunday Church School students: What does our priest mean when he says at every Divine Liturgy, “The light of Christ illumines all!” and how does that affect us? What does it mean for our life? In what way does the light of Christ illumine Sasha’s life in the story “Sasha and the Dragon”? If your students are older, you can share this article (quoting Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory) as part of your discussion: http://orthodoxmeditations.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-light-of-christ-illumines-all.html
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With older children, discuss the story. Also talk about the meaning/symbolism behind the story and many of the illustrations. For example:

  1. In the beginning of the story, everything in Sasha’s world is dark, grey, hushed, shadowed, and Sasha’s baba’s room “smells like the dead crow he had found at the park”. Why do you suppose it is this way? Do the shadows reflect how Sasha feels in any way? How do the pictures in the beginning of the book make you feel?
  2. Sasha sees dragon shadows everywhere at the beginning of the story. They are not mentioned in the story, per se, but show up in the illustrations. How many dragon shadows can you find in the book? What do  you suppose is the reason that the illustrator included these shadows in these illustrations? What do you think they represent?
  3. How do the other children respond to Sasha at the beginning of the story? Why do you suppose they do that? Does Sasha like it? How do you know? Have you ever felt that way around other children?
  4. What does Sasha do to help calm his fears? What do you do when YOU feel afraid? Can you tell about a time when you did something just like Sasha does, and it helped you? Why do you think it helped?
  5. The dragon in Sasha’s room was very real to Sasha! Do dragons exist in the world? What do you think Sasha’s dragon was or represents? Do you have any “dragons” in your life?
  6. Why did Sasha turn to St. Michael for help with the dragon in his room? What do you know about St. Michael that makes him a good saint to ask for help with your own “dragons”?
  7. What other saints can help us with the “dragons” in our life? How can we get them to help us?
  8. The illustrations in the book make us look hard at the difference between God and His angels and saints and satan and his “helpers” (for example, in this book, the dragon). How do the illustrations help you to see the difference between the two? Does that difference appropriately illustrate the difference in real life?
  9. Sasha does something that shows his complete trust in St. Michael’s ability to save him. What does he do? When you are feeling afraid and attacked, to whom do you turn? Do you have the courage to trust God and His saints fully to help you in those times? Why or why not? Try to remember Sasha kneeling on his bed, pointing right at the dragon, and shouting, “Kill it with your sword!” every time you are feeling afraid!
  10. How does St. Michael enter Sasha’s bedroom? Why do you think the author included smells and sounds in her description of his entrance? How does it make you feel about St. Michael’s presence with Sasha?
  11. Describe St. Michael’s victory over the dragon. If you were there, what would you have thought? Did St. Michael accomplish what Sasha asked him to do, or did he accomplish even more? What makes you think that?
  12. Is Sasha’s life any different after St. Michael kills the dragon in his room? Just by looking at the picture, how can you tell?
  13. Sasha finds a feather on a gash in his floor. What is special about the feather? How would you feel if you found a feather like that in your room? What would you do with it if you found one?
  14. How does Sasha’s world change on the morning after St. Michael’s visit? Describe what Sasha sees as he goes out for a walk with his mother. Is anything different? What is missing?
  15. What does Sasha do with the two feathers he receives? Why do you suppose he does that? How do the others feel after they receive a feather from Sasha?
  16. Compare the first illustration in the book to the last page of Sasha’s story. Are these illustrations alike or different? How so? And how did it happen that they came to be that way? Then compare Sasha at the beginning of the book to himself at the end. Is he the same, or different? How can you tell?

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“Sasha and the Dragon” author Laura Wolfe has created lesson plans (for varying ages) which incorporate her book. The plans can be used to teach about “arrow prayers”, big feelings, and helping others. Find them here for use with your SCS class: http://lauraewolfe.weebly.com/educational-resources.html

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

O Creator of the Universe,

You appointed times by Your own power;

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

Preserve in safety Your rulers and Your cities:

and through the intercessions of the Theotokos, save us.

(Troparion for the Indiction)

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On Creating a Substitute Folder for Your Sunday Church School Classroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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/