Tag Archives: Saints

Learning About a Saint: St. Artemius of Verkova (June 23/July 6 and October 20/Nov. 2)

In 1532, Cosmas “The Lesser” and his wife Apollinaria, pious peasants in the Russian village of Dvina Verkola, had a son. They named him Artemius. Cosmas and Apollinaria raised their son to love and honor God with his life. Even from an early age, Artemius lived a virtuous Christian life. Some sources say that by the time he was five, Artemius didn’t want to do what other kids his age did. Instead, he loved to work and tried to help his parents however he could with the household chores. He happily obeyed his parents, and any free time he had left when chores were finished, he spent in church. If he couldn’t be in church, he’d sneak away to where no one could see him, and pray.

One day, when he was twelve, Artemius and Cosmas were working together on their farm work. They were out tilling their fields when a thunderstorm suddenly appeared overhead. Artemius couldn’t even run for cover before a lightning bolt struck him and killed him. It was June 23, 1545.

At that time, many people in the region were superstitious, and they believed that a sudden death like Artemius’ was a terrible thing. They thought that he died suddenly because God was judging Artemius for something bad that he had done. Because of this, the people wouldn’t bury him or even give him a proper funeral! Instead, his body was taken to a meadow, where a wooden shell was placed over it, and a fence was built around it.

Thirty-two years later, a deacon named Agafonik was out gathering berries when he saw a bright light shining right up into the air. As Agafonik came closer to the light, he saw the body of Artemius, covered with tree branches, lying in a clearing. The light was shining up into the air right above the boy’s body. The body was incorrupt – he had not decayed at all – in fact it looked to Agafonik like he was just sleeping there! The deacon ran to get the priest and the other villagers. Because his body was incorrupt after all of those years, the whole village knew that Artemius was very holy, so they brought his body back to the courtyard in front of St. Nicholas’ church. They placed it in a coffin covered in birch bark, and kept it in the courtyard of the church.

At that time, there was a terrible flu that was going through the village of Verkola, and many people were dying from it. One man, Kallinik, had a son who had this flu. Kallinik was afraid that his son would also die. He went to the church of St. Nicholas and prayed. He begged Christ to heal his son. He also asked the Theotokos, St. Nicholas, and even Artemius to pray for his son. Then he took a piece of birch bark from Artemius’ coffin back to his home, and placed it on his son’s chest. His son was immediately healed! Kallinik told others in the village what happened. Other villagers who took pieces of the bark from Artemius’ coffin to the sick people in their homes found that their loved ones were all healed, as well!

In the years since his incorrupt body was discovered, there have been other times when St.Artemius has healed people. Sometimes he appears to the people that he heals, and talks with them. For example, once there was a man from Kholmogor named Hilarion who went blind. He was very sad and didn’t feel like doing anything anymore because he couldn’t see. But on the feast of St. Nicholas, St. Artemius came to him. Artemius was holding a staff in his left hand and a cross in his right hand, and he told Hilarion, “Arise, Christ heals you by the hand of His servant Artemius. Go to Verkola, bow down before his coffin, and relate everything to the priest and the peasants.” As soon as St. Artemius finished speaking, Hilarion could see again!

In 1584, people who were grateful for St. Artemius’ help and prayers built a side chapel for him. They moved his body into that chapel from the courtyard where it had been ever since it was found. Years later, St. Artemius healed a military commander’s son. The commander was so thankful that he built a whole church dedicated to the saint! In 1619, St. Artemius’ relics were moved to that church. The church burned down thirty years later, but St. Artemius’ relics were found.

In 1648, more than a hundred years after Artemius died, Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich of Russia ordered that a monastery was built and named for St. Artemius, and placed under his protection. His relics were taken to the monastery with his name so that people could continue to venerate them and ask for his prayers. Over the centuries many miracles were attributed to these relics by people who have approached them with true faith in Christ. Besides healing people from illnesses and blindness, God has also healed lame and deaf people through the prayers of St. Artemius. He has interceded for men and women, old people and young people; and there are so many miracles that God has worked through this saint that one source said it would be impossible to write them all down. Glory to God for His work through this holy child saint!

In the summer of 1918, as the Bolsheviks began to terribly persecute the Orthodox Christian Church, St. Artemius’ relics were among those that were destroyed. Even though his earthly relics have been destroyed, we know that this holy saint is still alive with God, and that he continues to pray for those who ask him to do so! And he has not stopped appearing to people in visions.

An American iconographer, Philip Zimmerman, who was living near Johnstown, PA, had a waking vision of a child saint. The child saint asked him to “paint what he saw for the children at the Village.” Mr. Zimmerman pondered the vision and prayed about it, and finally about 5 years later, he painted what he had seen, the holy saint Artemius. After that, St. Artemius appeared to Mr. Zimmerman additional times, confirming what he had seen in the dream about the saint’s hagiography. At that time, Fr. John Namie was directing Antiochian Village. He coordinated the selection of a site and the building of a rock shrine for the icon on that site. The icon stands there in its shrine to this day, to the right of the entrance to the St. Ignatius Church, in the midst of Antiochian Village Camp. St. Artemius’ shrine stands watch over the huge fields of Antiochian Village, even as the saint watches over – and prays for – the children and adults who spend time there.

 

Through the prayers of St. Artemius the Righteous Child Wonderworker, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

 

Here are some related links that may be helpful as you prepare a Sunday Church School lesson about St. Artemius:

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This blog shares St. Artemius of Verkova’s story in detail, and includes several different icons of him. https://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/10/saint-artemius-of-verkola-righteous.html

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Together with your class, listen to St. Artemius’ story in Ancient Faith Radio’s podcast, “Tending the Garden of our Hearts”, and then answer the questions and discussion at the end of the podcast. https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/tendingthegarden/st_artemius
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Your students may find it interesting to look at this list of wonderworking saints who are known to pray for specific needs: http://www.saintbarbara.org/growing_in_christ/praying_to_the_saints

If you share the list with your class, challenge them to find St. Artemius of Verkova in the list. Then recall the miracles that God has worked through him, and encourage the class to think of what other categories he could be listed under. What other saints on the list do they know? Could these saints be listed in any other categories? If so, which ones? What does this cross-listing tell us about the Saints and how God chooses to work through their prayers?

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How did St. Artemius of Verkova live his life? What made him a saint? Make a list on the board (or, better yet, have each student make their own list) of lifestyle choices that St. Artemius made which allowed him to become so holy. Together, watch this video about how we are ALL called to be saints. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgocWG9AG7s

Then look back at your list. Which of the choices that St. Artemius made are you also living out in a godly way? Which ones do you need to keep working on/improving in? Take some time to pray and ask St. Artemius to pray for you, that you will be healed (especially if you are ill) and that you will be saved.

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If you teach your students about St. Artemius of Verkova, you may want to also teach them his troparion. They can sing it on one of his commemoration days, whenever they think of him and want to ask him to pray for them, or whenever there’s a thunderstorm!

Troparion (tone 2)

By the command of the Most High, the sky was darkened with rain clouds,

lightning flashed, threat’ning thunder clashed,

and you gave up your soul into the hands of the Lord, O Artemius most wise.

Now as you stand before the Throne of the Lord of All,

you grant healing unfailingly to those who come to you with faith and love,

and you pray to Christ our God that our souls may be saved.

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There are so many amazing things that happened to St. Artemius the Righteous Child Wonderworker, both in this life, and after he departed this life. You may wish to give your students the chance to illustrate his story. Print out his story, cut it into sections, and give each student part of the story to illustrate. You can make a class book with the results, or post all of the illustrations, together with their part of the story, in your classroom or on a bulletin board where your whole parish can see and read about this little-known wonderworking saint.

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Iconographer Philip Zimmerman is still writing icons, and he even leads iconography classes! Check out his website here: https://www.philzicons.com/

Gleanings from a Book: “Anthony, the Great” by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka

Just because Anthony is only “four fingers old” doesn’t keep him from helping his family members to keep perspective on their challenges. However, being four has trials of its own, and being a four-year-old who is also an Orthodox Christian affords additional unique tests. But Anthony is ready to meet his challenges! He faces them well with the help of his sidekick Mikey (who happens to be a stuffed dinosaur) and of his patron saint, St. Anthony the Great.

In “Anthony, the Great”, Deacon John Sarantakis offers the tale of a young boy struggling to struggle. The book begins with Anthony reminding everyone that whatever they’re going through is not as big as a dinosaur. Readers of all ages can relate to some part of Anthony’s personality: whether to his love for dinosaurs, his desire for adventure, or his determination to be right. They will be challenged by Anthony’s longing to emulate his patron saint; even when everyone – right down to his favorite stuffed toy – does not do things exactly how he wishes they would be done. Throughout his challenges, Anthony faithfully struggles, as did his patron saint. Each time he does so, love and warmth well up in the heart of the person Anthony has blessed by his struggle. By the end of the book, Anthony discovers something BIGGER than a dinosaur, which is really something to realize!

Misha Pjawka’s watercolor, gouache, and pencil on hot pressed paper illustrations interact with the text in a beautiful dance of playfulness and color, charmingly collaborating to enhance the tale. There’s a degree of transparency to the illustrations that effectively communicates the storyline while also speaking to the state of Anthony’s soul: he clearly longs to do what is right. The book offers its readers an unclouded look at his struggle, both through the text and illustrations. (Side note: both young readers and the young at heart will especially enjoy watching Mikey throughout the book, as he wholeheartedly embraces Anthony’s experiences and adds a touch of humor with his take on them.)

The book ends with a brief overview of the life of St. Anthony. It tells some of his story, and includes his icon. There’s just enough of his story there to help the reader appreciate Anthony’s desire to emulate his patron saint, and perhaps to whet their appetite to learn more about this holy saint who is sometimes called the “father of monasticism.”

I can’t help wishing that Anthony were a real boy. I know that I would enjoy hanging out with him and Mikey, and learning how to emulate St. Anthony the Great by interacting with them. Although he is a fictional character, at least I can enter into Anthony’s life for a moment and be challenged by his struggle to struggle, every time I read “Anthony, the Great”.

 

Purchase your own copy of “Anthony, the Great” here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/anthony-the-great/

Here are a few gleanings from the book, as well as some educational suggestions you could incorporate if you choose to teach a lesson that includes the book. The book is aimed towards children aged 2-10, but perhaps (depending on the makeup of the class) older children would benefit from reading it in the context of a lesson:

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“No matter what the day may bring, Papa and Mama often take time to remind Anthony what it means to be an Orthodox Christian.” (p. 10, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

After reading the whole book once, go back to this part. Ask your class what they think Anthony’s parents told him that it means to be an Orthodox Christian? And what does Mr. Sarantakis mean by “No matter what the day may bring?” Ask the class if they pray the prayer that includes this phrase, “Whatsoever tidings I may receive during the day, teach me to accept them calmly, in the firm conviction that all eventualities fulfil Thy holy will…”. If they do, how does it help them during the day when they get good or bad news? If they don’t pray this one, perhaps you could provide a printed copy for them to take with them, so they can learn it and pray it each morning. Find the prayer in its entirety here: http://www.stgeorgeofboston.org/ourfaith/prayers/morningprayer

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“‘We strive to love God more than anything else,’ says Mama. ‘Sometimes that means not getting or doing what we want. That can be hard. Even so, we struggle to put others before ourselves.’”  (p. 10, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Draw a big heart on the board or whiteboard. Ask your students what they love. They will probably mention things, people, and experiences. Then refer to Mama’s quote about trying to love God more than anything else. Ask your students how they do that, and if they agree with Mama that it is hard. Inside the heart, make a (student-generated) list of ways to love God more than anyone or anything else.

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“His patron saint, St. Anthony the Great, had to struggle. A lot… Anthony quietly prayed that he might be more like this great saint of God.” (p. 13, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Ask your students what they know about their patron saint. Remind them that the more they know about their saint, the better they will be able to emulate them and the more likely they will feel close enough to their patron saint to ask for their prayers. Encourage them to pray that they will become more like their saint. Here is a blog post suggesting ways to teach children about the saints. Although it is geared to parents, it has some tips that Sunday Church School teachers will be able to utilize as well: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/teaching-your-children-about-the-saints/

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“Papa says temptations are chances to show our love for God.” (p. 16, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Ask your class why they think it is that, multiple times each day, we pray that God will lead us not into temptation, yet we constantly find ourselves being tempted? Suggest that perhaps Anthony’s statement about what his papa says can help us to wrap our minds around why we are tempted. Find some resources that will help you think about temptations (in the context of the Lord’s Prayer) here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/04/08/on-the-lords-prayer-and-lead-us-not-into-temptation/

The Bible verse stick craft at this page can help your students learn some verses about temptation: https://orthodoxpebbles.com/orthodox-basics/tending-garden-week6/

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“…He was struggling to struggle. He wanted what he wanted when he wanted it, and he wanted to do what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it! Even so, Anthony, remembering his prayer, decided to act like his saint…” (p. 25, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

After reading “Anthony, the Great”, as you revisit and discuss the book, when you arrive at this part of the book, ask your students what they think about struggle. Is it bad? Is it good? Why do they say that? Can they give examples of times in their own life when they struggle to struggle? In the Orthodox Christian Church, we recognize that struggle is an important – and necessary – part of our Christian life. Read what the scriptures and the Church fathers have to say about it here (and also find related lesson ideas if it seems that your students need to spend more time learning about this important piece of our faith): https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2018/07/27/on-struggle/

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“‘My sweet boy, because you struggled against what you wanted, you helped your family. I’m proud of you. When we do these things, we imitate Christ’s sacrifice and love for us. A love that is bigger and greater than anything else in the world.’” ~ Anthony’s Papa (p. 27, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Ask your students to consider how big God’s love is. Anthony’s Papa says it’s bigger than anything else in the world, and Anthony calls it “bigger than a dinosaur”! Encourage your students to draw or write their response on this page. When they’ve finished, allow each student to share their comparison. Talk about all of these big things, and how much bigger God’s love is. Encourage each other to remember God’s big love, and sacrifice our desires as we imitate Christ and His love.

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Gleanings from a Book: A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short, by Creative Orthodox

There are very few Orthodox Christian graphic novels. Presumably this is due to the fact that it takes so much time and energy to create one, especially if one wishes to accurately share the life of a saint. St. John the Short was no ordinary person, and therefore this is no ordinary graphic novel. I am grateful that Creative Orthodox* spent so many years researching St. John’s life and painstakingly creating this book. Presenting the story of St. John the Short through the use of this storytelling medium makes his story accessible to people of so many different ages. Young and old alike will enjoy this book and learn so much about (and from!) St. John’s life. As they read, they will be strengthened in their faith. This graphic novel effectively brings to life St. John the Short’s wisdom and insights.

“A Forest in the Desert” shares the life of St. John the Short. It begins with his first youthful attempt to go into the desert and become a monk, follows through his actual monastic calling, and continues all the way through his monastic life. The book offers a glimpse into monastic life as it was in his lifetime. The stories about St. John are intertwined with glimpses into his wisdom, expressed here in his own words. There are also accounts of miracles which God wrought through him, including the healing of a leper and that of a demon-possessed woman; an amazing encounter with the three Hebrew youths from the fiery furnace in Babylon; and more.

The book closes with an epilogue which allows the reader further insights into some of the saints mentioned in St. John’s story. There follow pages of interesting notes, with additional details about some of the events and/or illustrations on previous pages. Each note is clearly labeled with its corresponding page number and adds depth to the book as a whole. Following the notes are illustrations of several of St. John’s sayings.

Creative Orthodox has beautifully utilized the medium of the graphic novel, finding just the right words while also knowing when it is better to communicate with an illustration instead. Many times the drawings say more than words could, thus communicating ideas and events in a way that is easily (and quickly!) understandable. The drawings, done with pen and ink, are simple enough to appreciate at a glance, but detailed enough to convey what they are meant to illustrate. And, while they are not icons, the illustrations (and this book as a whole) point the reader to Christ through the life of this wonderful saint, St. John the Short.

I am truly grateful that Creative Orthodox was kind enough to share the ebook version of this extraordinary graphic novel so that I could read it and share it with you. I have already read it more than once, and have gleaned more from the life of this inspiring saint with each reading.

 

*Note: Michael Elgamal created “Creative Orthodox” so that his work would not be about him. Follow Creative Orthodox’s work through the social media links found here: https://creativeorthodox.com/

Order your copy of this graphic novel here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/creativeorthodox/shop/

Here are a few gleanings from the book, as well as a few suggestions of how to use the book to teach your Sunday Church School students about the life of St. John the Short:

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Bring seeds, a small sapling, and a piece of a branch of a tree (with leaves and seeds, if possible) into class. Place them where the students can see them, to arouse curiosity. When you share this quote from “A Forest in the Desert”, you’ll have props to help your students understand what you’re talking about.

“Saintly life is like a tree. It starts with a seed sown by Christ, that grows through attention and care to spiritual life into a fruitful tree, not only strengthening and nurturing itself, but also giving rise to countless other trees.” (pp. 7-10, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

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If you are able, take your students outside before sharing the life of St. John the Short with them. Before Church School, stick a stick in the ground somewhere outside the church. When you bring your students outside, show them the stick. Ask them if it is likely to grow. If you have time (and water access), have each student take their turn to get water from a source (preferably a ways away from the stick) and carry it over, to water the stick. Ask again if it is likely to grow. Ask students if they’d water this old stick every day if someone asked them to, and why (or why not).

Then share the story of Elder Amoi’s test of St. John the Short with them. “One day, the Elder Amoi was inspired. He took a piece of dry wood and called John. He asked him to fill a bucket with water and follow. They walked for hours… Abba Amoi planted the stick firmly into the ground. ‘I want you to walk to the well daily, fill up a bucket with water, and come here to water the stick.’ …John understood that watering a dry stick wouldn’t bring it to life, but he quietly obeyed out of love for his abba. And this was how John’s biggest trial started. It wasn’t a one-time test of endurance. It was a daily test of love, perseverance, and obedience… John continued to water the stick every single day for three consecutive years. And the stick into a beautiful tree. Abba Amoi took the fruit of the tree, gathered the monks, and gave it to the elders, saying, ‘Take, eat from the fruit of obedience.’” (pp. 65-70, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

Talk about obedience and how it can be fruitful. What examples can your students share of times when they were obedient, and were blessed to see the fruit of their obedience?

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Older students will be able to engage in a conversation about this quote:“The saints of God are like a fine tree full of lush green leaves and glorious fruit that are planted in Paradise. Trees that are decorated with all beauties, adorned with glory and placed in a spring – a spiritual spring of life that is the Holy Spirit that waters all of our hearts. Likewise, if a kernel of wheat has to die in order to give fruit, and Christ had to give His life on the Cross in order to give us life, the saints too have to present their lives in sacrifice in order to bear fruit.” ~ St. John the Short (pp. 118-120, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

To discuss: What other examples from the natural world can you give (besides a tree and a kernel of wheat) that can help us to understand what Christ and the saints have done, in order to bear fruit? What examples from your own life can you share? How have you “died” to yourself, and seen God work in you/seen fruit come from that “death”?

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Near the beginning of a fast, you could share this quote from St. John the Short. Before you do so, however, you may wish to plant several bricks in your classroom and pose the question, “How is fasting like a brick wall?” Field answers, then share this analogy from St. John the Short.

 

“…you frequently find yourselves asking, ‘Why do we fast so often?’ I’ll tell you why. When a king seeks to conquer a city, he surrounds the city walls and blocks access to its water well, spoiling the city’s food supplies. The defending city will soon give in to hunger and thirst and will fall to the attacking army. This is exactly like fasting. When you abstain from eating, you control yourself and guard your soul to rule over evil.” ~ St. John the Short (p. 126, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

 

Ask your class what they think about the analogy. In what ways does it hold well? Are there any ways that it doesn’t? Consider giving each student a brick and allowing them to write/draw (with oil pens or permanent markers) on their brick all the ways in which fasting will help them to control themselves and guard their soul against evil. Either stack these bricks as a monument in your classroom, to remind all of you of the reason for the fast for its duration, or send each student’s brick home with them to place where they can be reminded of the reasons for fasting (especially when they’re tempted to complain about it).

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Teachers of younger children who wish to share the life of St. John the Short will wish to read “A Forest in the Desert” before class, and select which portions of his life would be best shared with their students. They can then read (or retell) those stories in class, and then offer the students St John the Short favorite part, which will allow the students to respond with their favorite part of his life.

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Teachers of older students may want several copies of “A Forest in the Desert” so that the class can read it together. Depending on the length of class, you may need to break St. John the Short’s story into segments, reading and discussing each in a separate Sunday Church School class period. After having read and discussed the entire book, encourage your students to illustrate their favorite quote from St. John the Short. Or, push them to think of another saint whose graphic novel life story they’d love to read, and offer them this printable so that they can share part of that saint’s life in their own mini-version. (If you do this, consider making copies of the students’ mini-stories and putting all of them together into a class “book” which tells parts of the lives of many different saints!

Gleanings from a Book: “Spyridon’s Shoes” by Christine Rogers

Christine Rogers’ new book, “Spyridon’s Shoes” is a comfortable fit for its readers. The language is simple enough for mid-elementary-level readers to read on their own. The story line is intriguing, though, and will capture the attention of younger or older children as well as the adults who read this book.

Young Spyros’ family is hard-working, but nonetheless they experience one hardship after another. The book tells the story of how Spyros (a nickname for Spyridon) and his family face each of their struggles with faith. It also reveals the ways in which God chooses to send help.

The grandfatherly man who arrives and helps Spyros when he badly cuts his foot early in the story is, interestingly enough, also named Spyridon. Spyros offers to call the grandfather “Abba” and the man accepts that nickname. After the first meeting, Abba continues to show up in Spyros’ life, helping him as needed and inspiring him to do what is right. It takes the reader almost the entirety of the book to realize that “Abba” is actually Saint Spyridon himself, appearing to and physically assisting his young namesake who truly needs his help.

Although “Spyridon’s Shoes” is a work of fiction, it is a highly believable and delightful read. This book very naturally shares much of the wisdom of St. Spyridon, challenging readers to growth in their own Christian walk, without the reader feeling at all that they are being preached at by anyone. It incorporates some true stories of ways in which God has used St. Spyridon in the lives of those who have asked for (and received) his help. The book offers a glimpse into the saint’s real life on earth, within the context of a fictitious story.

Besides the story itself, there are a few extras that make this book so helpful to its readers. Vladimir Ilievski’s cover and occasional illustrations throughout the book are true to the story, giving readers a face for each Spyridon, while also bringing to life the setting on Corfu. The pages about St. Spyridon himself, found near the end of the book, help readers to learn even more about this wonderful saint. His troparion and icon are at the end of the book, for those who wish to ask for his prayers and see his icon.

This book is an enjoyable read for young and old alike. If you choose to read this book to your Sunday Church School students, it will probably take two or more class periods to finish, but your students will be engrossed in the story, and they won’t mind at all. Children will resonate with Spyros and love his story so much that they will probably ask to borrow the book when you finish, so that they can slip back into the story, re-reading it on their own. Just like St. Spyridon’s shoes, this book will be well-worn by the classes that own it. We can’t help hoping that Christine Rogers writes more books!

 

Purchase your own copy of “Spyridon’s Shoes” (available in paperback or ebook) here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/spyridons-shoes/

Here are some gleanings from the book (mostly quotes from “Abba”/St. Spyridon, so as not to give away any of  the story line), as well as a few additional resources that you may find helpful if you choose to teach your Sunday Church School class a lesson about the saint:

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“‘Prayer is our link to God, young Spyros. We should give our problems, whatever they are, to God, as we say in the Divine Liturgy that we “commend our whole life to Christ our God”.’ Abba stopped to cross himself and readjust his position on the boulder. ‘We leave everything to the Lord. Whatever He wills… Prayer is beneficial for everything, even the simplest things.’” (p. 33, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)

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“Abba looked out over the waves. ‘With God, as with people, we seek to form a relationship, a friendship. The more you converse with God, which is what prayer is, the more natural it will become. Like speaking to an old friend.’

‘Like you, Abba,’ Spyros said, smiling.

Abba chuckled. ‘You are so young to have such old friends.’” (pp. 55-56, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)

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“Father Theodore nodded. ‘You can pray to Saint Spyridon too and ask for his prayers. The saints in heaven, they are there with Christ, surrounded by His love and interceding for those of us on earth. Their prayers are great gifts.’” (p. 88, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)

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“The miracles Spyros and his family learned about are all true. Saint Spyridon’s shoes continue to wear out every year, even to this day, and they are replaced on his feast day, which is December 12. The worn-out shoes are sent to churches all over the world, and many miracles are worked for the faithful who venerate them.” (p. 99, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)

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St. Spyridon was present at the first ecumenical council. Around that time, he used a brick to demonstrate the unity of the Trinity. He held the brick in his hand and then squeezed it. Miraculously, fire shot up from it, water dripped out of it onto the ground, and then all that was left in his hand was dust. “There was only one brick,” Saint Spyridon said, “but it was composed of three elements. In the Holy Trinity there are three Persons, but only one God.” Read this and more about the life of St. Spyridon, including many miracles worked in his lifetime, here: https://oca.org/saints/lives/2000/12/12/103526-st-spyridon-the-wonderworker-and-bishop-of-tremithus

If you choose to share this story from St. Spyridon’s life with your students, you may want to bring a brick to class and invite them to hold it and see if there’s anything they can squeeze out of it before (and again after) sharing the story with you.

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Teachers of young children may want to read the Potamitis Publishing book “Saint Spyridon: the Miracle with the Clay Tile” with their students. http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Books-in-English/Paterikon-for-Kids-Saint-Spyridon-and-the-Horses/flypage-ask.tpl.html

After reading the book, you could make this craft. It uses three ingredients to make a “potsherd/brick” ornament, on which your students can draw the saint. It will remind your students of how St. Spyridon used a brick to demonstrate the Holy Trinity: http://www.theorthodoxchildrenspress.com/diy-kids/tocp-diy-family-st-spyridon-clay-ornament/

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Listen to the accounts of several miracles of St. Spyridon, recounted by Fr. Peter Shapiro, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9iWjfYTzBM

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If you read “Spyridon’s Shoes” with your class and share some other stories from St. Spyridon’s life and miracles with them, you might find this reproducible page helpful. It allows children to recall some of the things St. Spyridon has done to serve and help others. It then invites them to consider how they themselves can “wear out their shoes” by serving and helping people around them.

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After a lesson on St. Spyridon, you may wish to pray this prayer (also found at the end of the akathist hymn to him) with your class: “O great and all-marvellous Spyridon, holy hierarch of Christ and wonderworker, boast of Kerkyra [Corfu], most radiant beacon of the whole world, fervent intercessor before God and speedy helper for all who have recourse to you and entreat you with faith! Amid the Fathers at the Council of Nicea you expounded the Orthodox faith most gloriously; you showed the unity of the Holy Trinity with wondrous power, and utterly put the heretics to shame. Hearken, therefore, unto us sinners who entreat you, O holy hierarch of Christ, and by your mighty intercession before the Lord deliver us from every evil circumstance…To many living in dire poverty and want you rendered assistance; you abundantly sustained the poor during famine and performed many other signs through the power of the Spirit of God living within you. Wherefore, forsake us not, O holy hierarch of Christ. Remember us, your children, at the throne of the Ruler of all, and beseech the Lord that He grant us remission of our manifold sins, that He bestow upon us a peaceful life unbeset by misfortunes, that He vouchsafe unto us a tranquil and unashamed end and everlasting blessedness in the age to come, that we may unceasingly send up glory and thanksgiving to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to ages of ages. Amen.”

 

 

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: The Sunday of St. John Climacus

This is the sixth 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. John Climacus for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:

Today we commemorate St. John Climacus and his work “The Ladder of Divine Ascent,” both of which have had a great impact on the Holy Orthodox Church through their influence on the monastic community and on the Church at large.

St. John was given the name “Climacus” because of his writings. “Climacus” means “ladder” and thus his name is a nod to the work by that name. From a very young age, John desired to serve God with all of his heart. He became a monk at the Mt. Sinai Monastery when he was only 16 years old, and he served there faithfully for years before going into the desert to live a hermit’s life.

The fight against the devil and his passions was difficult, but John faithfully prayed and focused on Christ, and over time he became holier because of his refusal to give in to those passions. His holiness drew people to John, and even monks would come to him to ask for advice. God gave him the gift to be able to help people who were severely tempted and/or upset to be at peace.

God used John to work some miracles during his lifetime. For example, one time his disciple Moses was far from their dwelling, searching for dirt for their garden, when he got very hot and tired, so he took a rest under a big rock. As this was happening, John was back at his cell, praying, when he had a revelation that Moses was in danger. John began to pray fervently for his disciple. Later in the evening, when Moses returned home, he told John that while he had been sleeping under the rock, he heard John calling him, so he woke up and moved quickly, just as the huge rock crashed down right where he had been sleeping! God had heard John’s prayers and saved Moses with this miracle.

Many years passed, and John continued to faithfully pray and read from the lives of the saints. He continued to live a holy life. At age 74, he was made the abbot at the Mt. Sinai Monastery. The monks there asked him to write down all of the rules that he’d followed for his whole life, so that they could follow his example. He wrote about thirty steps that can lead monks (and any Orthodox Christian) closer to God. He called the steps “The Ladder of Divine Ascent.” Although this book was written about 1,400 years ago, it is still considered the ultimate guide to the Christian ascetic life.

St. John Climacus, please intercede for our salvation!

 

Here are a few suggestions of ways that you and your students can learn about St. John Climacus, if you choose to teach a lesson about him and/or the ladder of Divine Ascent.

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“The ascetic example of this great Saint of the Church inspires us in our Lenten journey.” Before teaching your class about him, you may want to read this thorough account of the life of St. John Climacus here: https://www.goarch.org/sunday-stjohnclimacus

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Teachers of young children may want to incorporate this art idea into a lesson on St. John Climacus and his Ladder of Divine Ascent: http://www.creativehandscreativeminds.com/2014/03/st-john-of-ladder.html

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Find ideas of ways to help your students learn from St. John Climacus’ life, and from his “Ladder of Divine Ascent” (including craft ideas) here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/lenten-learning-st-john-climacus/

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Middle-years students (and older ones) will benefit from reading or listening to this article by Fr. Andrew Lemeshonok from St. Elizabeth Convent: http://orthochristian.com/102249.html Here is a sample from the article:

“The forthcoming week is devoted to a great ascetic – Saint John Climacus. Spiritual life is a ladder, which leads to the Heavenly Kingdom. We climb it, we fall down, we hit the ground, we stand up and we fall again. The thing is, we need to stand up over and over again… The main thing is to humble yourself – to acknowledge your own weakness and to let God enter your life. You do not need to surprise people with your feats and talents. The Lord speaks simply in the Gospel: ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls’ (Matthew, 11:29).”
After reading the article, discuss it together as a class. Talk together about ways that we fall from the ladder, and what should be our response when we do fall (get back up and start climbing again). Encourage each other to get back up and climb again. You may want to close this class with an art activity: consider allowing your students to create a poster that reminds them of this lesson. Perhaps it could be an encouragement to keep trying, to keep climbing the ladder, even when they fall; or a reminder that they are on a ladder in the first place; or a quote from St. John Climacus himself. Encourage them to hang the poster in their room or to give it to someone who needs encouragement to keep climbing.

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Have you ever read “The Ladder of Divine Ascent” by St. John Climacus? It is available as a pdf here: http://www.prudencetrue.com/images/TheLadderofDivineAscent.pdf

Consider printing off a step (or two) that could be the most beneficial to your older Sunday Church School students, and engage them in a discussion about that step. How does St. John recommend that we climb towards God in that way? Has anything changed in the years since he wrote this, or is this step still relevant to us today? How can we, right now, work towards climbing that step of the ladder?

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Classes of older middle school students or older could benefit from reading this article, “Why Do We Need the Ladder?” The article offers reasons from a deacon, a priest, and an archpriest of why it is important for modern-day Orthodox Christians to read and learn from St. John Climacus’ “Ladder of Divine Ascent.” After a quick review of the life of St. John  (which the students may be able to contribute, depending on their previous studies), divide the class into three groups. Give one interview from the article to each of the three groups. Allow the groups some time to read their interview/portion of the article and come up with a few main points to share with the other groups. Encourage them to come up with a creative way to share their points with the rest of the class. Allow time for each group to present their portion of the article with the rest of the classroom, so that you can all learn together how we can benefit from St. John’s writings. http://orthochristian.com/102181.html

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This three-minute video takes a closer look at the icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent and could be a helpful addition to a lesson on St. John Climacus. http://orthochristian.com/92323.html

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Teachers and older students will benefit from listening to this talk on the life and teachings of St. John of the Ladder: https://orthodoxlivonia.org/files/Adult-Ed-Classes/2018-03-18-Ad-Ed-Class.mp3 (The talk is 33 minutes long.)

 

Lenten Sundays Series: The Sunday of St. Gregory of Palamas

 

This is the fourth 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. Gregory of Palamas for you to ponder before you create a lesson for your students:

On this second Sunday of Great Lent, we commemorate St. Gregory of Palamas’ successful defense of the Orthodox belief that humans can both know and experience God. He asserted that we can know with our minds that God exists, and we can also experience Him through His uncreated energies. This flew in the face of the teachings of Baraam, a critic of St. Gregory’s and of hesychasm in general.

St. Gregory was born in 1296 to a prominent family in Constantinople. His father died when Gregory was still young. The youth was so bright and hardworking that the emperor himself took interest in Gregory, helping to raise and educate him in the hopes that he would one day hold a high government position.

But Gregory left all of the glamor of Constantinople’s elite behind when he departed for Mount Athos at age 20 to become a monk. (And he was not the only member of his family to do this. Shortly thereafter, His mother and sisters also became monastics.) As a monk on Mt. Athos, Gregory learned about “Hesychasm,” a very calm, still way to pray. He mastered this prayer of the heart, and thus we know him as a “hesychast.”

In 1326, Gregory went to Thessalonica and was ordained to the priesthood. He lived the life of a hermit on weekdays, silently praying alone and away from the world. On the weekends, he would celebrate the holy services in his parish and he would preach so beautifully that his sermons brought his listeners to tears.

When Barlaam, a bright and studious monk, came to Mt. Athos and heard about hesychasm, he proclaimed it to be heresy. He insisted that it is not possible for humans to know God’s essence or to experience His energies such as uncreated light. His dissent caused quite a stir, and Gregory was called to debate with Barlaam about this. Gregory’s studies in the world and his experience as a hesychast put him in the perfect position for this debate.

Gregory first tried to speak to Barlaam about all of this, but speaking did not seem to make any progress, so he began to write prolifically about the prayer of the heart and its validity. Although Gregory was writing a lot, they continued to meet and debate in person as well. One of these debates was before the 1341 Council of Constantinople, which took place in Hagia Sophia. This time, they were arguing about the Transfiguration. Gregory stood by the Orthodox belief that God revealed Himself to the disciples on Mt. Tabor, by using His Divine Energies. Barlaam said theirs was not an actual experience of God: just a helpful gift to the disciples, who couldn’t really experience God because they are humans.

The members of the Council upheld Gregory’s position as the truly Orthodox position. They agreed that God, Whose Essence we cannot approach, chooses to reveal Himself through His Energies. Humans can see those Energies, such as the light that the disciples could see on Mt. Tabor. After the Council ruled that Barlaam’s teachings were heresy, Barlaam fled to Calabria.

In spite of the ruling, some people still argued against Gregory, even locking him up in prison for 4 years at one point. However, the very next patriarch released him and made him Archbishop of Thessalonica. In his later years, God gave Gregory the gift to perform miracles, including healing the sick, and he was granted a vision of St. John Chrysostom on the night before he died. His last words were, “To the heights! To the heights!”

Thanks to St. Gregory Palamas, the Church has maintained the truth that we humans are able to experience God through His uncreated energies. St. Gregory’s life of dedication to God and His Church, as well as his willingness to stand for truth set him apart as a wonderful example to all of us. Sometimes people refer to the Sunday of St. Gregory of Palamas as “The Sunday of Orthodoxy Part Two”, since his defense saved the Orthodox Church when it was under a second major attack.

The Gospel reading for this second Sunday of Lent is the story of the paralytic whose four friends lowered him through the roof of the place where Christ was so that he could be healed by Him. Our Lord not only healed his legs, making him able to walk again, but also healed his sins, telling him, “Your sins are forgiven you.” How beautiful it is for us to be reminded, right here near the beginning of Great Lent that the truth of our Faith is worth standing up for, as did St. Gregory; at the same time receiving the reassurance that Christ is waiting for us to come to Him so that He can heal both our soul and our body.

St. Gregory of Palamas, please intercede for us and for our salvation.

 

Here are a few ideas of ways to help your Sunday Church School students learn about St. Gregory of Palamas:

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Here are printable bulletins for children that talk about today’s Gospel reading and offer a short look at St. Gregory of Palamas. Although they are not dated for this year, they could help in a lesson on St. Gregory of Palamas (and/or the Gospel reading of the day). http://myocn.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Childrens-Word-163.pdf

http://myocn.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Childrens-Word-213.pdf

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Find lessons on St. Gregory of Palamas, at every level, here:

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/3-5-years-old/st-gregory-palamas

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/6-9-years-old/st-gregory-palamas

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/10-12-years-old/st-gregory-palamas

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/middle-school/church-established-st-gregory-palamas-and-st-john-climacus

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/high-school/church-established-st-gregory-palamas-and-st-john-climacus

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This episode of the “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts” podcast tells about St. Gregory of Palamas, and is worded in a way that young children can understand. http://audio.ancientfaith.com/specials/tendinggarden/ttg_2018-03-04-a.mp3?fbclid=IwAR2Fmeq4DCbcwU9Fc-qgO9DZ29f9jcVoKamJ3fz-URQCOtUqPYjXW8ZNV70

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Find a “Jesus Prayer” craft idea that can be a natural response to a lesson on St. Gregory of Palamas here: https://craftycontemplative.com/2012/03/13/a-childs-lesson-on-st-gregory-palamas/

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Can we know God? This episode of “Be the Bee” tackles this question, which Barlaam and St. Gregory disagreed about all those years ago. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpJYSII4NFU
Teachers of middle-years students may want to watch this with their students as part of a discussion of the life of St. Gregory Palamas, then discuss it together.

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Teachers of older church school students may wish to take in one of the resources mentioned here, along with their class, as part of a lesson on St. Gregory of Palamas. https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/03/04/lenten-learning-st-gregory-of-palamas/

After watching or reading one of these resources about his life, talk together about St. Gregory’s holiness, including a discussion of hesychasm. What is hesychasm, anyway? What can it look like for us? How can we ask God to enlighten our darkness, as did St. Gregory? What will happen if we ask Him to do that? Will it make any difference in our life? (An aside that the students may find very interesting is a quick look at uncreated light, as it appears in some pictures or videos wherein God chooses to illumine people in a way that perhaps no one can see at the time, but it shows in the photos. There’s a video posted by a priest about uncreated light that shows three different times/ways this has happened. https://orthodoxcityhermit.com/uncreated6-2/)

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