Tag Archives: spiritual labor

Saints of Recent Decades: St. Sophia of Kleisoura (May 6 or 19)


In 1883, a baby girl was born to Amanatiou and Maria Saoulidi. The Saoulidi family lived in Trebizond in Asia Minor (which is now called Turkey). They named their little girl Sophia. Sophia grew up in Trebizond with much love for God and His Holy Church. In 1907, Sophia married a young man named Jordan Hortokoridou. After almost 7 years of marriage, they had a son (some sources say they had a second child as well). Sophia loved her husband and her son. Sadly, soon after her son was born, Jordan was enlisted into the army and soon after that, he mysteriously disappeared and never returned. To make matters worse, a short time later their son died as well. (Both children, according to the sources that list two.) Sophia was very sad. Sophia took her sadness to God. She went up on top of a nearby mountain every day and spent hours praying. She chose to focus more on God than on her circumstances. On that mountaintop, Sophia began her ascetic life.

One day on the mountaintop, St. George appeared to Sophia. He warned her that the villagers should leave their village to escape a coming persecution. So it was that Sophia and her village left Trebizond in 1919, just before the Christians in Turkey were forced to leave. Sophia and the other villagers headed to Greece in a ship named after St. Nicholas. As they traveled, a terrible storm came up. The sea was wild, but they survived. When it was over, the captain of the ship declared that someone very holy must have been aboard his ship, since they all survived. When the captain said this, all the passengers looked at Sophia. She had spent the entire storm praying in a corner of the ship. (Years later when she herself told this story, she said that she could see the angels all over the waves of the sea, keeping them safe!) So Sophia and her villagers made it safely to Greece.

When Sophia arrived in Greece, she lived with her brother for a while. She was not happy in the world, and after a few years, the Theotokos appeared to her. She said, “Come to my house!” Sophia asked her where she was and where her house was, and the Theotokos replied, “I am in Kleisoura.” Sophia went to Kleisoura and found the Monastery of the Birth of the Theotokos. She lived with the community of the Monastery of the Birth of the Theotokos for the rest of her life.

For most of her years there, Sophia did not have a room at the monastery. Instead, she slept in the monastery’s kitchen fireplace. The fireplace was used for cooking, but when the cooking was finished, Sophia could sleep there. It was cold in the winter, because the cold wind would blow down the chimney; and when it rained, rain would drip on her while she slept. Sometimes she would light a little fire to warm herself, but not always. And she only slept for a few hours every night. She spent the rest of her time kneeling in prayer by the window, lit by the candle she used to light the icon of the Theotokos which was kept there. Sophia ate little and wore rags. The local people called her “Crazy Sophia,” but people would come from all around, just to see her. When people came to see her, before they would even tell her their names, Sophia would greet them by name and talk with them about their problems, which God revealed to her without the people needing to tell her anything!

Sophia did not care much about how she looked. She wore ragged clothes and a black scarf. Her blanket and sandals had holes. Sometimes the people who came to see Sophia would give her gifts of new clothing. She would immediately give the clothes to someone poor who needed them more. Sometimes people would give her money. She would hide the money until she met someone that needed it, when she would go get the money and give it to them. She did not wash herself or her food. She fasted strictly and ate only as much as she had to to survive. She cared much more for her soul than for her body. She chose to cover her holiness with foolishness so that no one would know how holy she was. She said, “Cover things, so that God will cover you.”

In 1967 Sophia got sick. She had sore spots on her stomach that were open and smelled bad. It hurt a lot. But she did not complain. She said, “The Panagia will come to take away my pain. She promised me.” And she did just that! Sophia remembers a vision she had in which the Theotokos, the Archangel Gabriel, other saints, and St. George came to her side. The Archangel told her they were going to cut the bad parts out of her stomach. She told him that she was a sinner and needed confession and to receive Holy Communion before the surgery so she would be prepared in case she died. The Archangel assured her that she was not going to die, and then he cut her open. Immediately she was healed and normal, left with a tiny, perfectly-healed scar at the place where the Archangel Gabriel cut her open. She would sometimes show this scar to those who came to see her, so that they could see the proof of the miracle God worked in her life. People who saw the scar said it looked as though it had been the work of a very skilled surgeon.

In her years at the monastery, Sophia had many animal friends. Several snakes slept with her in her fireplace bed. She was not afraid of them, and encouraged others to not be afraid of them, either. She befriended a bear who was very gentle with Sophia. She once saved its life: someone thought the bear was a threat to the community and nearly shot it, but Sophia stopped him from killing the bear. She called birds “the Birds of God” and would sit down on the ground to feed them as they settled all over her. The birds would sometimes even go chirping along into the church with her to pray with her! Sophia said the birds have been sent to us from the Panagia and Christ to console us and to give us company.

Sophia departed this life on May 6, 1974. She was buried on the east side of the monastery church’s altar. In 1982, her relics were exhumed. Her bones were clean and shining like light, and the casket was full of holy myrrh. In 2011, she was elevated to sainthood.
To this day, St. Sophia of Kleisoura is working miracles through the power of God. For example, before she died, she gave her kerchief to someone so that they could remember her. In 1995 that kerchief began to smell fragrant. It has brought healing to many women who have contact with it. (Those who can’t have children but have the sign of the cross made over them with the kerchief soon get pregnant; and those who are pregnant give birth easily through the prayers of St. Sophia.)

St. Sophia became very wise (so we call her an eldress) and she prayed and fasted a lot (so we call her an ascetic). She prays for all of us, but especially for the poor, those in need, and those who are sad because they have lost a loved one. We can ask her to to pray for us, as well.

St. Sophia of Kleisoura, intercede for us and for our salvation.

You became a treasury of Divine wisdom and all-consuming fear [of God], O mother Sophia; through your motherly intercessions, O blessed one, you offer to all the richness of grace.

Sources: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2011/11/st-sophia-righteous-ascetic-of-panagia.html, http://www.stgregoryoc.org/st-sophia-the-righteous/, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPYVGneiWpg, and http://www.pravoslavie.ru/50197.html.

Here are additional links to ways you can learn more and teach your Sunday Church School children about St. Sophia of Kleisoura:
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Read more about the life of St. Sophia of Kleisoura, see her photo, and ponder some of her quotes as collected here: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/06/eldress-sophia-ascetic-of-panagia.html.

Read stories of some of her miracles here:

http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2016/05/some-miracles-of-saint-sophia-of.html

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Share this book about St. Sophia of Kleisoura, published by Potamitis Publishing, with younger Sunday Church School students. Read it aloud to them yourself, or play Dr. Chrissi Hart’s reading from her podcast “Under the Grapevine”: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/grapevine/saint_sophia_of_kleisoura

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This 7-minute video tells about St. Sophia of Kleisoura, showing pictures from her life as well as icons of her. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2jnWvuYBEA

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St. Sophia of Kleisoura loved animals. She had special friends who were snakes, birds, and even a bear. Read about some of them here: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2016/05/the-love-of-st-sophia-of-kleisoura-for.html. Bring a (stuffed unless you have access to real ones!) bird, snake, and bear into your middle-years Sunday Church School classroom as a discussion starter. After introducing your students to the life of St. Sophia, talk about how she treated the animals and how they responded to that treatment. Ask the students what her treatment of animals shows her respect for God and His creation. Challenge the class to think of how they can treat animals with the kindness and respect that St. Sophia gave to the creatures that God shares with us.

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St. Sophia said many wise things. Print these quotes (http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2014/03/a-few-quotes-of-st-sophia-of-kleisoura.html and http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2011/11/st-sophia-righteous-ascetic-of-panagia.html) and cut the printed page to separate each quote. Before your older Sunday Church School students come to class, tape one quote to the bottom of each chair. After discussing the life of St. Sophia, have each student find and share the quote under their seat. Discuss the quotes together. How do you see each played out in St. Sophia’s life? How can we continue to live in a way that is shaped by St. Sophia’s wisdom in each quote? Talk about how the Jesus Prayer helped St. Sophia through many of her most difficult challenges. She encourages us to pray the prayer as well! Hand each student a copy of this quote http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/st_sophia_kleisoura_wherever_you_walk.pdf. Discuss it together, then allow them to decorate it and take it home to place where it will remind them of her and the wisdom of this saying.

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Teens and/or adults will be challenged by this talk by Fr. Panagiotes Carras about holy fools. The talk encourages each listener to work to become different from the world, as is necessary for Orthodox Christians to do if we want to live truly Godly lives. It focuses on St. Sophia of Kleisoura and includes a video about the life of the saint (from 31:00-1:18:00). That video includes photos from her life and even recordings of her speaking (with translation to English). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPYVGneiWpg

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Saints of Recent Decades: St. Maria of Paris (July 20 or August 2)

In 1891, in Riga, Latvia, a baby girl named Elizabeta (“Liza,” to her family) was born to the Pilenko family. The Pilenkos were Orthodox Christians, and raised Liza in the faith. When she was 14, Liza’s father died, and Liza was so upset that she gave up her Faith. When the family moved to St. Petersburg, instead of going to church, Liza began to hang out with radical people who, like her, liked to read and wanted to make the world better. They would spend hours talking about revolution and about theology, but (in Liza’s words) they “seemed to do nothing but talk.” She wanted to actually DO something to make a change. Years passed, and Liza slowly came back to her faith.

When she was only 18, Liza got married. Three years later, she left her husband and moved back to the house where she grew up. While she was there, she gave birth to her daughter Gaiana. Three years after Gaiana’s birth, Liza was accepted as a student at the Theological Academy of The Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St. Petersburg. She was the very first woman to study there! For a while in 1918, Liza was the mayor of her town. This was during the time that the Bolsheviks were taking over Russia, and she was accused of being part of their Red Army. She was arrested and taken to trial. Her judge, Daniel Skobstova, said she was innocent, and he had her released instead of executed. After she was free, she went to find him to thank him. They quickly became friends and were married only a few days later!

Right after the wedding, as the Bolsheviks got stronger in Russia, Liza and her whole family left the country. They didn’t want to be part of all the horrible things that happen during a revolution. They traveled through Tblisi and other parts of the country of Georgia; through Istanbul, Turkey; and through parts of Yugoslavia. They ended up in Paris, France, where they settled down to live. In the time that they moved around, Liza gave birth to two other children: her son Yura and her daughter Anastasia. Once the family settled in Paris, Liza made dolls and painted silk scarves to help provide for all of them. She also began to work with the Christian Student Movement to help other Russian refugees who lived there. Many of them had a much harder life than she did. But her bad things still happened to her family: unfortunately, in the winter of 1926, Liza’s whole family got the flu. Little Anastasia died from it. But this time, a death in her family did not drive Liza away from the Faith: instead, it made her faith stronger! She began to work even harder to help the refugees. She wanted to live a more real, more pure Christian life than ever. Sadly, all of this work was hard on her marriage to Daniel, and she left him, moved into her mother’s house, and continued her work.

In 1932, Metropolitan Evlogy tonsured her a nun and encouraged her to develop a new kind of monasticism: the life of a nun living in the city and serving the needy people there instead of living out alone in the countryside. So Liza, now “Mother Maria,” began her work of sharing her life with the poor and homeless.
She started with a small empty house, sleeping her first night on the floor under the icon of the Protection of the Mother of God. Others came to join her as she served the Russian refugees, and soon her room in the house was needed for others, so instead, she slept in the basement by the boiler. An upstairs room became the chapel, and Mother Maria wrote the icons on the icon screen. Before too long, she was able to set up a home at 77 Rue de Lourmel (77 Lourmel Street) in Paris that was larger and had much more space. In this new space, she and the others serving with her began to prepare dinner for those who needed food. They served up to 120 every night! Sometimes they would turn the dining room into a hall where Orthodox leaders would come to teach about the Faith. At this house, the stables out back became a chapel, and again Mother Maria contributed many of the icons, some of them were icons that she embroidered. Mother Maria rented other buildings around Paris that she then shared with the poor so that needy families would have a place to live. She started a hospital for people sick with tuberculosis. She began schools for children. She visited mental hospitals just so she could look for Russian refugees. Because these people were so poor and didn’t speak French well, they had been labeled as mentally ill and put in mental hospitals – even if they were in their right minds! Mother Maria would rescue them from the mental hospital and help them.

She also helped to start an organization called “Orthodox Action,” which provided safe places for travelers or for the elderly to stay. The people in the Orthodox Action group also helped people who did not have a job, worked in hospitals, aided elderly people, and published books and pamphlets. Mother Maria was living up to her youthful dream of DOING something for change, not just talking about it!

When the Holocaust began and edged closer to Paris, of course Mother Maria did all that she could to help save the Jewish people who reached out for help. Her priest, Fr. Dimitri Klepinin, would make baptismal certificates for any Jewish person who asked for one. (Any Jew that had a certificate saying they had converted to Christianity and were no longer Jewish was in less danger.) Mother Maria, her son Yura, and Fr. Dimitri would then plan escape routes for the Jewish people who asked them for help. In 1942, Mother Maria somehow got into the Velodrome d’Hiver. This winter stadium was where many of the Jews in Paris were being kept before they were taken to Nazi death camps. While Mother Maria was in the Velodrome, she did whatever she could to help the Jewish people that she met in there. One way that she helped was by sneaking Jewish children out of the Velodrome to safety! She made arrangements with some of Paris’ trash haulers, who helped her take the children out of the Velodrome inside trash cans, and then drove them in trash trucks to Mother Maria’s house, where she would help to arrange for their escape from Paris.

Mother Maria was finally caught by the Nazis in 1943. They arrested her for helping the Jewish people and took her to Ravensbruck, one of the concentration camps. Even while she was a prisoner in that Nazi camp, Mother Maria was helping people. One survivor talked about her later and said she was adored by everyone, but especially the young prisoners. They had been separated from their families, but Mother Maria became their family and cared for them. She was known to give her “meal” (piece of bread) to anyone that she thought needed it more than she did. She lived this way until she died. On April 30, 1945, Mother Maria was killed in a gas chamber. We are not sure if she was selected to die that day or if she volunteered to take the place of someone else who was. Either way, she died because of the way she lived her faith.

Mother Maria once said, “At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead I shall be asked, did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. That is all I shall be asked.” And she lived exactly that way. But she went beyond just feeding, clothing, visiting, and helping the others in her care: she actually saw everyone she met as “the very icon of God incarnate in the world,” and she treated them as such. She may even have died in the place of one of those “icons of God,” walking out the Faith to the very last moment of her earthly life.

You became a bride of Christ, O venerable Mother,

And offered your body and soul to Him as a living sacrifice.

You exposed the evil side of humanity’s ways

By allowing the light of the Resurrection to shine forth from you.

We celebrate your memory in love.

O Martyr and Confessor Maria

Pray to Christ our God that He may save our souls.

St. Maria of Paris, intercede for our salvation!

Sources:

http://myocn.net/st-maria-of-paris/

http://www.pravmir.com/the-challenge-of-a-20th-century-saint-maria-skobtsova/

http://incommunion.org/2004/10/18/saint-of-the-open-door/

http://incommunion.org/st-maria-skobtsova-resources/

Here are a few ideas of ways to help your students learn more about St. Maria of Paris:

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Find a few pictures of St. Maria of Paris in this article about her life:

http://www.pravmir.com/the-challenge-of-a-20th-century-saint-maria-skobtsova/

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Find several icons of St. Maria of Paris here: https://incommunion.org/2004/10/18/icons/

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Younger children will enjoy learning about St. Maria of Paris through the picture book, “Silent As a Stone,” by Jim Forest. It tells the story of when she snuck Jewish kids out of captivity in trash cans. Find it here: http://www.svspress.com/silent-as-a-stone/  Before Sunday Church School begins, roll a big (clean, wheeled) outdoor trash can into the middle of your classroom and have it sitting there at the beginning of class. The students will be curious about it, and you can tell them it makes you think of faith and how to live as a true Christian. Entertain their ideas and suggestions of why that is. Then, share the book about St. Maria with them, and then talk together again about the trash can. Can they now tell you why a trash can reminds you of faith and how to live as a true follower of Christ? Give each of student a turn to “be” one of the children being saved from the velodrome while you act the part of St. Maria or one of the Parisian trash workers. Help them into the trash can, close the lid, and push it around a little, then help them out. After whoever wants one has a turn, talk about how it must have felt for the Jewish children in Paris to be in the trash. Their people were being treated as (less than) trash, but St. Maria knew that because they are people made in the image of God, they are not trash but treasures, and she therefore rescued as many as she was able before being caught. Talk together as a class: how can WE see the people around US as treasures, not trash, and rescue them when they need help? Invite the students to draw, tell, or write a plan of how they can do that. Encourage them to look out for those around them who may feel like trash, and be ready to help however they can. (In future weeks, remember to offer the opportunity for students to share any times that they were able by God’s grace to help someone who needed it.)

st-maria-hauls-treasure

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Because St. Maria loved to read and write, we have many of her quotes. Discuss this one with your Sunday Church School students: “Each person is the very icon of God incarnate in the world.” If that is true, how should we treat each person? Describe different types of people to your students (some wonderful, some terrible) and invite them to tell how they should treat each person described as an icon of Christ. Give each student their own copy of the quote: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/st_maria_of_paris_each_person.pdf and invite them to draw or write their responses to the quote around the edge of the quote itself.

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With older Sunday Church School students, listen to this podcast about St. Maria: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/socialjustice/mother_maria_skobtsova Talk together about the saint’s life and the challenge that the podcaster, Mariam Youssef, extends to the listeners as a result of St. Maria’s life.

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With teens, discuss this section of Bev Cooke’s article about St. Maria of Paris (found here: http://myocn.net/st-maria-of-paris/) “It wasn’t enough to just feed the hungry. ‘I should say that we should not give away a single piece of bread unless the recipient means something as a person for us,’ she wrote. And she meant it. Late at night, she would travel to the Parisian market, Les Halles, to a restaurant that stayed open all night. For the price of a single glass of wine, anyone could sit (and sleep) there. It wasn’t unusual for St. Maria to bring several people home from the place, or to tell them, while collecting the food that the merchants in the market donated to her, to come to her house for dinner that night. She would often skip liturgy, or leave it early in order to begin preparing a meal for up to 120 guests. 

“Her legacy to us is clear: we need to help each other, and look upon everyone – every single human being with whom we interact, whether our family, our friends, or a stranger on the street – not only as a brother or a sister in Christ, but as the very icon of God in the world. For, as she pointed out, ‘About every poor, hungry and imprisoned person, the Savior says ‘I’: ‘I was hungry and thirsty, I was sick and in prison.’ To think that he puts an equal sign between himself and anyone in need. . . . It fills me with awe.’ ”

How did St. Maria live that demonstrated that? How can WE live like that? What can we do as a parish, a Sunday Church School class, as individuals to show that we know that Christ is every hungry, thirsty, sick, and imprisoned person?

Saints of Recent Decades: St. Elizabeth the New Martyr (July 5 or 18)

Note: There is so much information about St. Elizabeth the New Martyr! We have tried to summarize her life below in a way that children can understand. We recommend that you learn even more about this holy saint’s life before you teach your students about her. We could not include everything, and you know what will be interesting to your particular class!

On Feb. 24, 1864, the Grand Duke Louis IV of Hesse  and Princess Alice of the United Kingdom (daughter of England’s Queen Victoria) had their second daughter, and named her Elizaveta (they called her Ella). Although they were of noble birth and means, the family lived simply, and the girls did chores at home instead of being waited on. The family gave freely to those in need, and the girls often went along with their parents to visit the ill, the orphans, and the infirm. Princess Ella loved beautiful things: flowers, drawing, and lovely music.

When she was only 14 years old, diphtheria made all of her siblings sick, and her mother caught it too after caring for her children when they were sick. Because of this, Princess Ella’s 4-year-old sister and her mother both died. This changed Princess Ella’s life completely. She began to live as an adult and helped her father with the younger children, since her mother was no longer living.

When she was 20, Princess Ella married the grand prince Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia, whom she had known since childhood because he and his family would come for visits. When she married, she became a Grand Duchess, and moved to Russia. The now-Duchess continued to live in a manner similar to the one in which she had been raised: going out and meeting the people in her community, and helping them however she could. Now she had new people to meet, a new culture to learn, and a new language: Russian! She very sad when she saw how the serfs (Russian poor people at that time) lived. She had never seen such poverty before! Duchess Elizabeth found ways to help: she provided a much-needed doctor for their community, and also provided as much education as possible for whomever she could.

The Duchess had been raised with strong (Lutheran) Christian faith. Now that she was living in Russia, she encountered Orthodoxy which she knew very little about before moving there. She wanted to understand her husband(and her new people)’s faith, so she began to read and study it. Over time (and especially during a visit to the Holy Lands in 1888) it became clear to her that she wanted to become Orthodox. She wrote a beautiful letter to her father, explaining that she wanted to become Orthodox (her husband was not forcing her to do so). She sent the letter, hoping for her father’s understanding and blessing. He did not understand or bless her conversion. The Duchess really wanted to be Orthodox, though, so she was chrismated into the Holy Orthodox Church on Lazarus Saturday in 1891. She was so happy that she could commune with her husband at last, that year, on Pascha! Later that same year, Duke Sergei and his beloved Duchess Elizabeth were transferred to Moscow, where he was named governor. The two of them loved being together and did as much together as possible. The Duchess continued to love beauty and nature, so she loved when they paid visits to their summer residence at Ilyinsk, outside of Moscow. The sad part of their lives at this time was that they had no children.

In 1894, Nicholas II, who was married to the Duchess’ little sister Alix (Alexandra), became the new (and, sadly, the last) tsar of Russia. The Duke and Duchess took his niece Marie and nephew Dmitri into their home in 1901 and raised them as their own children.

Then in 1905, the Russians entered into war with the Japanese, and life became more difficult for all Russians, including the Duke and Duchess and their protégés. The Duke was constantly receiving threats from revolutionaries, and the Duchess was doing what work she could (organizing women to gather supplies for the Russian armed forces, and visiting the wounded). On Feb. 18, 1905, a revolutionary threw a bomb into the Duke’s carriage, just outside of their mansion, killing him instantly. The Duchess gathered what pieces she could of her husband, accompanied his remains at a prayer service on his behalf, and then immediately went and visited the gravely wounded carriage driver in the hospital so she could put his mind at ease before he died of his injuries.

The next months were difficult for the Duchess and also for Marie and Dmitiri, but the three of them grew closer to each other as they helped each other. The Duchess threw herself into her work.  

The very next year, in 1906, Marie married a Swedish prince and Dmitri went off to school. When she wasn’t working, the Duchess began to learn about and visit Orthodox monasteries. The more she learned about the monastic life, the more she wished to rid herself of her worldly goods. She gave many of her things away, and sold some of them to purchase a Moscow estate that became the Martha and Mary Convent of Mercy. She was tonsured, and became an abbess. The now-Abbess Elizabeth opened the convent on Feb. 9, 1909, less than four years after her husband’s passing. The monastery grew quickly from a handful of nuns to nearly 100, all hard-working and dedicated women who prayed and served their community with fervor. Abbess Elizabeth worked and prayed, and she also applied her love for drawing to iconography. The abbess wrote icons for the sisters.

Because of how much the community trusted and loved Abbess Elizabeth and the mothers and sisters of the Mary and Martha Convent, it was a surprise when Red Army soldiers came in and took the abbess away from her convent during Bright Week of 1918. (They captured her because of who she had been when she lived in the world.) She and a handful of other nobles and members of the royal family were kept as prisoners in a school until July 5(18) of that year. The night of July 5(18) they were taken out into a woods and thrown down an empty mine shaft. As she was thrown in, Abbess Elizabeth quoted Christ, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” (Luke 23:34). Unlike most of the others, Abbess Elizabeth did not fall all 180+ feet to the bottom of the mine shaft. Instead, she landed on a ledge about 45 feet down. Another member of the royal family landed there as well, and was later found with his injuries bandaged (by either her handkerchief or part of her veil, depending on the version you read), so even in the process of being martyred, Abbess Elizabeth was helping others by using whatever she had! The Abbess and her fellow martyrs were heard singing the Cherubic Hymn and other hymns of the church as their executioners threw grenades into the mine shaft and then left them to die. 

Months later, that region was safe again for a short time, so the bodies of the martyrs could be rescued from the mine shaft and taken away. They were hidden and secretly moved from place to place until they could be properly buried. Abbess Elizabeth’s body was taken all the way to Jerusalem, which is where she wanted to be buried. It took until 1921 (that’s almost 3 years!) for her body to arrive in Jerusalem. Along the way, her casket was opened a few times so people could care for her body. Each time it was opened, her body was incorrupt, as though she lay there asleep.

 

Emulating the Lord’s self-abasement on the earth,
You gave up royal mansions to serve the poor and disdained,
Overflowing with compassion for the suffering.
And taking up a martyr’s cross,
In your meekness
You perfected the Saviour’s image within yourself,
Therefore, with Barbara, entreat Him to save us all, O wise Elizabeth.

 

Additional note: There are many pictures of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr. You may want to print a few from different periods of her life, and show them to your students as you tell her story. Find her story with many pictures here: http://life.orthomed.ru/st-elizabeth/pics/efs_e.htm.

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Find additional information about St. Elizabeth the New Martyr, as well as more photographs at these sites: https://orthodoxwiki.org/Elizabeth_the_New_Martyr, http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/princess_elizabeth.htm, http://www.pravmir.com/a-sacrificing-love-new-martyr-grand-duchess-elizabeth/, and http://romanovdreams.tumblr.com/tagged/Elizabeth-Feodorovna.

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This picture book tells the story of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr for children ages 7 and up: http://www.stnectariospress.com/holy-new-martyr-elizabeth-grand-duchess-of-russia/

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This chapter book tells the story of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr for ages 9+: https://www.amazon.com/Ellas-Story-Duchess-Became-Saint/dp/1888212705

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St. Elizabeth the New Martyr is one of the women saints featured in this book: https://holycrossbookstore.com/products/encountering-women-of-faith-i?variant=693862019

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St. Elizabeth the New Martyr is among the saints featured in these multi-leveled lessons on defending the faith. http://dce.oca.org/assets/files/mini-units/defenders-of-the-faith.pdf

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St. Elizabeth the New Martyr once said, “I long to give thanks, to give thanks every minute for everything that the Lord has given me. I long to bring Him my insignificant gratitude, serving Him and His suffering children.” After studying her life, use this statement as a starting place for a discussion with older Sunday Church School students. What do you each think about her statement? Why do you think she who had – and then lost – everything can give thanks every minute for everything? How can we apply this statement to our own lives?

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Talk with your Sunday Church School students about this quote from St. Elizabeth:
http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/st_elizabeth_new_martyr_we_work_pray_hope.pdf  St. Elizabeth says we need to work, pray, and hope in order to truly experience God’s mercy in our lives. How did St. Elizabeth demonstrate this with her own life? Together create a list (on a board or whiteboard) of ways that each of you can better experience His mercy through work, prayer, and hope. Give each student their own copy of the quote and encourage them to copy ideas from the list around the border of the quote, to remind themselves of how they can better experience God’s mercy.

 

On Mark 11:17, “My House Shall Be Called a House of Prayer for All Nations.”

Note: the Antiochian Archdiocese’s Creative Arts Festival 2017’s theme is the inspiration for this blog post. We will take a closer look at the theme, to help them to better prepare for the festival in case they participate. Whether or not they do, what we can gather from this passage of St. Mark’s Gospel is applicable to all of us, not just the children participating in the festival!

Have you ever thought about that time when our Lord went into the temple, overturned the tables of the money changers, and drove out the salesmen? Why did He do that? What can we learn from His actions? How can we apply this passage to our own life?

It all began with the Triumphal Entry, the glorious reception that Jesus was given when He arrived in Jerusalem. Even the fact that He was riding on a lowly donkey did not stop the crowd from singing His praises. But instead of glorying in that acclaim, He went straight to the temple and “looked around at all things.” (Mark 11:11) His means of entry into Jerusalem modeled humility and His choice to go directly to the temple exemplifies the priority that should be given to being in God’s house.

Something else is tucked into this passage that could easily be missed. The passage says that He “looked around at all things” but “as the hour was already late He went out to Bethany with the twelve.” This shows us something else: it models self restraint. After all, as He looked around, our Lord saw all of the greedy money-making happening in what should have been a very holy, completely God-focused place. He knew that it was wrong, and had every right to be furious about it. But instead, He left to be with His disciples, calmly choosing being with people over being frustrated about stuff.

The next day our Lord returned to Jerusalem, and went back to the temple. This time He “drove out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple.”  (Mark 11:15-16) He thus demonstrated the importance of keeping what has been set apart for God free from greed and from earthly stuff.

Once the temple was restored to its intended state, it could also return to its intended purpose of worship and godly teaching. And so Christ taught the people, saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” This teaching was appropriate for the people who had gotten so accustomed to seeing (and doing) marketing in the temple that they perhaps didn’t even think about how inappropriate it was. It turns out that this teaching is also appropriate for those of us living 2000+ years later. Concepts that we can take from this passage include: honoring God’s house as a place to pray; welcoming all because God’s house is for everyone, regardless of nationality; and guarding against deceit and greed that can steal us away from right relationship with God.

St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians pushes us to look at this event in an even more personal light. 1 Corinthians 6:19 reads, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God?” Reconsidering the account of our Lord’s cleansing of the temple from the perspective of our own body being a temple, set apart for God, offers us even more insights for our Christian life. First and foremost, we need to aim to live humbly as our Lord did, especially when things are going well and others are lauding us. Secondly, God should always be our first stop, whether we are looking for personal guidance or we are prioritizing our schedule (being in church at the Divine Services should be at the top of our list). Thirdly, we need Christ Himself to cleanse our hearts, drive away the greed and selfishness in us, and restore us to the way we were intended to be. Finally, we need Him to teach us: how to guard the holiness of His temple, keeping our bodies from being marred by greed; how to welcome all around us to worship Him as well; and how to keep ourselves pure so that we do not house thoughts and desires that steal our focus away from Him.

May the Lord indeed cleanse us, that we may each become a worthy temple that properly worships Him and welcomes others to do the same.

Here are some ideas of ways to help our Sunday Church School class (whether or not they will be participating in the aforementioned Creative Arts Festival) to learn about this passage:

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Here is a lesson plan on the personal aspect of cleansing the temple, geared to grades 3 to 6: http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/youth/youthworker/resources/cleaning

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Here is a printable page full of activities for kids, related to the cleansing of the temple: http://www.sermons4kids.com/cleaning_house_bulletin.pdf

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Find an attention-getting way to teach about the cleansing of the temple in this lesson plan: http://biblelessons4kidz.com/BL4K%20Database/New%20Testament/Jesus/LSN%20-%20Jesus%20Clears%20Temple.pdf

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If your students enjoy doing activity pages related to the Sunday Church School lesson, you will want to peruse the printables (at a variety of age levels) in this pdf about the cleansing of the temple: http://freesundayschoolcurriculum.weebly.com/uploads/1/2/5/0/12503916/lesson_11_jesus_clears_the_temple.pdf

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Older elementary/middle school students may enjoy re-enacting the cleansing of the temple by reading together this play imagining what it could have been like, from the traders’ perspective, before a discussion of the event: http://www.beau.org/~vickir/drama/play1.html

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Find varied age-level (for ages 2 – 12) lessons about Jesus cleansing the temple here. Click on “Year 2: Kings and Kingdoms,” then select your age level, and go to lesson 5 in that level, “Jesus Clears the Temple.” Find lesson plans, scripts/stories and reproducible pages at each level. http://resourcewell.org/children-ministry/curriculum/

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker

“Where have you been all of my (Orthodox Christian) life?” This pickup line applies, at least for me, to the book Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker! As soon as I heard about this book, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it and read it. Because I am a parent, I am always looking for ideas of how to better incorporate Orthodoxy into our family’s life. Because I am also an educator, I am in constant search for ideas of ways to make the Faith tangibly accessible to young people. When I heard the title, I was pretty sure this book would be a helpful read on both counts. When I recently received the book, I dove right in and began to read.

From the first page, I could tell that my suspicions were correct. Each page of this book, from the introduction to the “best appendix I’ve ever read in my life” (my exact words to my husband as I read it) is bursting with encouragement, ideas, and challenges for Orthodox parents and teachers. Among the many things that I love about this book is the variety of suggestions that it presents. At its core are the three disciplines in which we are to be continually growing as Orthodox Christians: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The book provides proposals from the authors and also includes contributions of “how our family is living this concept” via paragraphs written by other parents. The book does not suggest or imply in any way that there is a hard line of “what everyone must do to be really Orthodox.” Rather, the authors send their reader again and again to check with their own priest. This recommendation begins early. The first page of the book is titled “Ask your priest,” and that attitude of “your spiritual Father knows you best and therefore can most wisely help you know how to apply this” permeates the book, as it should. Each chapter is as useful and practical as the one before, and the whole book ends with an appendix packed with hands-on ideas of ways to celebrate each feast of the Church Year (and more!) together as a family.

Orthodox Christian parents and educators who apply the concepts in this book will firmly establish the Faith in the hearts of the children in their care. In architecture, blueprints are drawn up by trained artists with building experience. In the same way, this book was written by Orthodox Christian parents with experience in both parenting and Orthodoxy. Just as blueprints are necessary to begin a successful building project, this book is a necessary tool for parents and teachers who want to firmly ground their children in the Faith. Any Orthodox Christian who is serious about living their Faith should read this book and begin the slow work of applying it to their family life.

Although I may not have had this book for all of my Orthodox Christian life, I am grateful to have it now. I will be sure to share it with others. Blueprints for the Little Church will be my go-to gift for new converts and/or new parents in our parish. And we will all be the better for it, for when we work to build the “little church” at home, the Church as a whole is strengthened.

Do you need to pick up a blueprint for your little church? Purchase your own copy here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints

Find ideas for celebrating feast days, similar to the ones described in the Appendix, on the “Blueprints” Pinterest page: https://www.pinterest.com/orthoblueprints/

Listen to Elissa and Caleb talk about their book (including how the book itself came to be), answer questions about the book, and share related stories in this podcast about the book: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/faithencouragedlive/blueprints_for_the_little_church

Here are some excerpts from “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker:

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“This book offers hope to those engaged in the struggle against the passions. It is imperfect advice penned for imperfect people, warring to make sense of a dark and mysterious world through the lens of the Orthodox Faith. Among the myriad voice is trying to tell you what to think and how to act, among the countless sources of monastic wisdom and patristic treasures, among the countless Pinterest boards and parenting blogs, this book makes a humble offering to mothers and fathers who wish to see their family embrace the Orthodox faith and to raise living saints.” (p. 9)

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“The key ingredient in building your little church is to avoid comparing yourself to anyone else. Everyone’ piety is personal; it’s between them and God—and hopefully their Confessor. It’s not one-size-fits-all and just as you can’t expect to try on someone else’s custom made leather gloves and expect them to fit—well, like a glove—you shouldn’t expect someone else’s prayer rule to fit you perfectly, either. There are countless resources online and in print for developing a pious Orthodox life but nothing can compare to a personal conversation with your priest or father confessor, who can guide you through the process.” (pp. 11-12)

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“We cannot provide a meaningful experience with God for our children. We can prepare the ground, present them with opportunities, share our own experiences, but we cannot encounter Christ for them–they must do that for themselves. We can lead them to water, and we can tell them what it means to thirst and talk about how satisfying the water has been in our own lives, but they must decide to drink.” (p. 18)

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“Our modern family homes offer very little stillness; we move frenetically from one activity to the next, and our loud lives seem to have nothing in common with the monastic life. …In some ways it feels as if we cannot accomplish anything spiritual, because we are always called back to …redundant tasks. …Think about the traditional monastery; this community, this space, is set aside for worship and contemplation of God. The monastics engage in simple, repetitive work, with regular interruptions from the talanton or the bells, which call them away from their work to prayer. Parents engage in redundant tasks and find themselves called away from their own thoughts and plans by their children. Both environments are designed to call us away from our own egos and our own plans, drawing us to prayer. Perhaps the family home is not so different from the monastery.” (pp. 23-24)

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“Becoming the little church means acquiring a new mindset. We are not simply raising children to live happy and healthy lives—we are raising saints who will find their rewards in heaven. This is radically different from the popular notion that we want “good kids” or “well behaved kids.” Moralism will only produce pharisees and passionless drones. The saints of God are filled with the Holy Spirit, radiate the Divine Light, and bring others to salvation.” (p. 30)

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“As you set out to create sacred space in your home, know that you cannot do this wrong. Set aside a space in your home and let your icon corner develop as it suits your family best. The important thing is to gather together in prayer and to make room in your home to live out your faith. This is an important step in the creation of your little church, and you will continue to return to these sanctifying activities again and again with your children as you grow together in faith.” (p. 89)

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“The church in her wisdom offers at the healthy rhythm that leads us to a wholesome and good routine. Instead of the frantic pace of a family spinning out of control, the Church provides an intentional, peaceful rhythm that is firmly grounded in prayer and love. In an Orthodox home, time is put to holy use so that the routine is not tearing us apart and wearing us out, but actually contributes to our spiritual lives. When we sanctify time with prayer rules, liturgical cycles, and spiritual seasons, we have time itself as it was intended: as a reminder of God and a tool for our spiritual growth.” (p. 93)

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“…It is vital to the success of your family’s prayer rule that the parents are making the effort to pray daily no matter how briefly. …Parents are the workmen who are building the little church and the children will take their religious cues from them.” (p. 107)

 

“The best way to teach a child what a fast should be is to show them. If we are happily eating less and feeding the hungry more, if we are really studying the Word of God and increasing our prayers, our children will see our honorable fast—and its spiritual rewards—and every word we have said to them will be proven and made manifest.” (p. 132)

 

“The question to ask of yourself and your family is not how much you can afford, but in what ways you can give to God’s work of your time, treasure, and talents.” (p. 154)

 

“From the day our children are baptized, they are full members of the Orthodox Church. They are neither junior members nor extensions of their parents, but full Orthodox Christians with the same free will and potential as adult members. It is common to hear children referred to as ‘the future’ of the parish. This is a lovely thought, but the nomenclature is all wrong. If we really believe the words of the prayers said at baptism and chrismation, then we cannot simply categorize children into ‘the future.’ They are the parish now, fully invested in what happens around them.” (pp. 161- 162)

 

“If we can trust that our children are truly God’s and not ours, we need never be exasperated or humiliated by their behavior. We don’t have to fear they won’t turn out well enough—we need only call upon their Father and ask Him to give them what they need. They are His children, and we must commend them to Him.” (p. 169)

On Helping Children to Participate in the Divine Liturgy

We attend the Divine Liturgy every Sunday and sometimes during the week as well. Admittedly, there are times when it may seem like a long service to us adults, and it is certainly even more so to our children, for whom time feels different. Depending on the child, their age, and their ability to understand what is going on, the Liturgy can seem a daunting service. Getting beyond merely attending (being present) to truly ATTENDING (paying attention and participating) is not easy for any of us, especially for children.

Some have translated the words ‘Divine Liturgy’ as “the work of the people.” Perhaps a better translation is “the offering of the people for the whole world.” Either way, it is the people who do the work or the offering. The Orthodox Church considers all of its members, including children, to be an important part of the Church’s life. Therefore it follows that even the children are needed to do this work/give this offering. So, if it is important that every member of the parish participate in this work/offering, but if it is a challenge even for adults to be fully present and engaged, what can be done to help the children? This blog post will offer a few suggestions, as well as links full of even more ideas of ways that all adults in a parish can help the children of their parish to participate in the Divine Liturgy. Regardless of our status as adults: whether we are parents, godparents, Sunday Church School teachers, or any other adult in a parish, we share the responsibility for helping to raise the children who are a part of our parish.

Rather than focus on the things children should NOT do during the Divine Liturgy, we will frame this blog post more positively. Here are things that children CAN AND SHOULD do during the Liturgy to participate more fully. (I will include a few personal anecdotes as well, to serve as illustrations for some of the ideas.) Children in our parishes can:

See – The very tiniest among us can see the candles, at the icons, at the clergy, at the choir… (For an idea of how to do so: I have always loved watching my husband during the first moments that he holds our godchildren during a Liturgy when they are still very young. I am in the choir, not with him, but I know what is happening. He whispers, “Where’s Jesus? Can you see Jesus? Can you see Mary, His mother?” and I know that he is pointing their thoughts towards why we are in church: to be in God’s presence and to lift our hearts and minds towards Him.) Young preschoolers can look for items in the church such as crosses, animals, the color of Jesus’ robe, etc. Older preschoolers can count how many of those items they see, how many candles are burning in front of Jesus’ icon today, etc. Young elementary students can look for the icon of St. John the Forerunner, the Evangelist whose Gospel we hear during the service, what’s in the window by the Theotokos in the icon of the Annunciation, etc. The list of things to look for is limitless. It takes a little adult pre-planning to think of things for the children to look for, as well as placement in the sanctuary that allows the children to be able to see, but throughout the Liturgy, the children’s attention can be directed to look for things in the icons or in the service itself.

Kiss – Even very tiny children can show their love for God and their veneration of the saints by kissing the icons, the Gospel book, the cross, the priest’s hand, and even their fellow parishioners. (When our baby goddaughter and I arrive at the icon of Christ after communion, I whisper, “Let’s kiss the icon of Jesus. We love you, Jesus! Thank you for giving us your Body and Blood so we can live more like you this week!” and then I venerate the icon. She has yet to kiss the icon, but I know that she will, in time. And in the meantime, she looks intently in His eyes while we have that quiet moment together. We have an older goddaughter who has taken a while to be willing to do any of this kissing, but she has begun to do so. She just needed some time and to be willing to do this on her own. That’s okay!) Be sure to include the children around you in the Kiss of Peace, as well. Encourage your own children to make peace with their siblings before church; or during the Kiss of Peace if need be.

Talk – Although there are many opportunities to be silent, with a little practice beforehand, children can (and should!) talk during the service! There are plenty of opportunities to talk, but we must help them learn when those opportunities are, and what they should say during those times in the Divine Liturgy. With a cue until they get the hang of it, very young children can begin with the “Amens” during the Anaphora. Then, as they learn the following, they can also join in for (probably in this order): the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the communion prayers, etc. (They even get to SHOUT in church on the Sunday of Orthodoxy! When that Sunday approaches, we must practice, “This is the faith…” with our children ahead of time so they know what to say! My children loved that part of Sunday of Orthodoxy when they were younger. Actually, they still do, even though they are in their late teens!)

Sing – Children can sing “Lord, have mercy!” from a fairly early age. They can learn other responses to the prayers and refrains to the antiphons as well. They can learn to sing the troparia, the kontakion, the Trisagion Hymn, the Cherubic Hymn, the list goes on and on throughout the service. (A favorite song at our parish is “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord,” near the end of the service. The choir director’s granddaughter’s face has always lit up when we arrive at that song, even when she was very small. It is such a delight to watch her as she joyfully sings along!) As with many of the other suggestions for Liturgy participation, this one requires a little work together ahead of time. Gather a collection of CDs of the Church’s music at home, especially ones that use some of the same tunes that your church sings during the Liturgy. Play the CDs often so you can listen and sing together. Listening at home too, makes it much easier for the children to participate during the Divine Liturgy. Besides this additional exposure at home, a key to having the children sing along during the Liturgy is for them to hear other parishioners also singing along. Children who are surrounded by adults who sing along tend to join in as they are able. (Although, “a little child shall lead them” also applies at times: our daughter jumped into singing in the choir before I got up the courage to, and she has been blessing our parish with her voice, ever since! So perhaps it depends on the child…)

Hold – Children can hold service books, either a child’s version (our older goddaughter has worked her way through several versions, in increasing difficulty level, as she has grown) or the regular service book (when they’re old enough to read it – that same goddaughter has a little pocket prayer book containing the Liturgy that she now uses to follow along). Children can also hold and pass the offering plate. Some young boys like to hold a pretend censor and “help” Father or the deacons with the censing. Older children (and adults like me who need it to help them focus!) may want to hold a prayer rope and pray the Jesus Prayer during the Liturgy.


Stand – While in their parents’ arms, and then on their own once they know how to balance on their feet, children can learn to stand reverently during the Epistle, the Gospel, and the Great Entrance. As they get older, they can stand longer and longer until they are able to stand for the entire Liturgy (or at least all of the times that your tradition suggests for standing). (Our son challenged himself at a young age to stand for the whole service. His goal was to be an altar server – which can happen at age 7 in our parish – and he knew he’d have to be able to stand the whole service once he got to do that, so he started practicing when he was 5 or 6. Now that he’s a senior altar server, he is reaping the benefits of having learned to stand so long ago. Both of our children have joked about how tired their schoolmates get, standing during school concerts, etc., because “We’re Orthodox! We stand for hours every Sunday!” so they are quite accustomed to being on their feet. But they had to learn to stand for that long; and to choose to do it.)

 

Hear – From an early age, children can listen to more and more of the service. The Epistle, the Gospel, the homily, the music, the prayers… the list can grow a bit every year until they are listening to the entire Liturgy. Younger children may need to be challenged quietly during the Epistle/Gospel/homily, “Listen for (a word you anticipate will be said multiple times, like ‘Our Lord’) and smile at me or gently squeeze my hand each time you hear Father say it.” Older children can listen for a theme during the scripture readings. (For example, my 10-year-old goddaughter and I listened for “healing” in all of the readings during this year’s Holy Unction service, and quietly pointed it out to each other when we found/heard it.) Many children can listen for “one thing that you want to remember from Father’s homily today” that adults can ask them about during Coffee Hour or on the ride home from church. It can also be helpful to quietly whisper directions that help you both focus better during the Liturgy. (For example, “Listen! Jesus is speaking to us right now, through Father!” just before the priest says, “Take, eat: This is my Body, which is broken for you, for the remission of sins…”)

 

Move – There are even opportunities for movement during the Divine Liturgy! Once again, it takes a little pre-teaching, but even young children are able to make the sign of the cross, bow their heads unto the Lord, kneel if/when applicable, reply to Father’s bow with one of their own, etc. We can help the youngest ones to do so, taking their baby fist in our hand to make the sign of the cross over their body, etc. The older ones, with a little preparation ahead of time, can participate fully when the time comes in the service without us physically helping them as much, because they have practiced and they know what to do. During the lenten season, children can also do prostrations! (One of my favorite memories of Great Lent was when my now-elementary-school-aged godson was about 3. He came to some of the lenten services with his parents, and I took great delight in watching him flop himself down wholeheartedly and then joyfully pop right back up again during the prostrations in the Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian. He was willingly offering his entire self in praise to God, and I can only imagine that God was infinitely more tickled than I was to see that enthusiastic worship!)

Children love to participate. They long to feel a part of things. They want to contribute to the world around them. Here are a few ways that we adults can help the children in our homes/Sunday Church School classes/parish to do so during the Divine Liturgy.

These ideas are admittedly only a scratch on the surface of ways children can participate in the Divine Liturgy. What ideas do you have? Please comment below and help the rest of this community to better bless and assist the children in their parish. May we all work together to attend the Divine Liturgy; and, as we do so, may we all truly ATTEND, regardless of our age! Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory be, forever!

Here are a few resources with even more ideas of ways to help the children in your parish participate in the Divine Liturgy:

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Fr. Paul Gassios of St. George Orthodox Cathedral in Rossford, Ohio, offers this excellent article about the importance of having children participating in the Divine Liturgy. The article offers suggested guidelines for how often they should attend, where to sit when attending with children, when they can participate in the fasting, and more. He says, “When I hear the ‘holy noise’ of children in Church it makes me very happy because it tells me the parish has a future. We should be worried when we no longer hear that noise!” Read his article here:

http://www.stgeorgerossford.org/parish-life-and-ministries/reflections/4-reflections-sub/109-children-and-the-divine-liturgy

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Purchase a Divine Liturgy Book for Young Children and personalize it with photos from your own parish. This is a great book for your own children to use to familiarize themselves with the Liturgy. It would also make a great gift to godchildren, a Sunday Church School class, or other children in the parish! https://www.createspace.com/4773892

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“Giving children other things [ie: toys] to do during church teaches them that the Liturgy is for adults only and that is not what we want to be teaching our children.” Find this quote in context, part of one of a list of 10 things to do to interest your children in the Divine Liturgy, when you read this blog: http://www.freshandfaithful.com/?p=113.

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“Talk to your child about Church as often as you can. Liken things to Church. Make Church sound fun and exciting. For kids, it can be fun and exciting. [My son] loves Church because there is SO MUCH to look at, listen to, and do. Keep Church in the forefront of their minds.” This is one of many tips from Presbytera Marilisse I. Mars, in her blog http://journeytoorthodoxy.com/2013/01/time-to-go-to-church-a-time-to-fear-and-dread/.

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“Above all, pray for your children to grow in their love for Christ and His Church. No amount of practical advice can substitute for the work of God’s Spirit in the lives of your children. There is no magic formula for producing children who passionately worship the Lord. God has called us to train our children and set a godly example before them, but at the end of the day we must all lay our children at the foot of the cross and call upon our gracious God to be true to His promises and finish the work He has begun in the hearts of our children.” This is only one of the many helpful and practical tips for parents and all adults in a parish, to help them help children to join in during the Divine Liturgy. This entire article is a must-read for any Orthodox Christian adult who wants to fulfill their role with the children in their parish, whether it is parenting, godparenting, being a positive role model, or teaching Sunday Church School: http://www.stlukeorthodox.com/html/parishinfo/helpchildrenworship.cfm

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“Teaching a child to be an Orthodox Christian — and what that means every day — takes a huge commitment and constant effort on the part of the parents and godparents. Here are some of the things we learned the hard way, or were shown to us by people much wiser…” This is at the beginning of a list of ages/stages of helping children to participate in the Divine Liturgy, written by Nichola T. Krouse. Read her tried-and-true ideas here: http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/inchurch/lazyparent.htm

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Orthodox Christian Sunday Church School teachers can also help to influence children’s participation in the Divine Liturgy. “Classroom time should be set aside for questions and answers about that day’s worship.” Read more about this, as well as other ideas and suggestions here: http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/resources/religiousedbasics/reledbasicsarticles/reledbasicsliveliturgy

 

The Church Fathers on Prayer

We recently looked together at the Lord’s Prayer. That is such an important prayer, one of many prayers that we Orthodox Christians should pray regularly, or “without ceasing,” according to St. Paul in 1 Thess. 5:17. We all know that we should pray, and that we should do so continually. But in this busy era, how can we actually do that? What is the best way for us to pray? What should we pray for when we pray? Why is prayer so important? This week we will glimpse at the answer to those questions by studying the words of the Church Fathers. Although they were alive on earth in different time periods, all of them successfully lived Christian lives in a world that flew in the face of their faith. We can benefit from their wisdom, if we take a moment to ponder their words. May these words encourage us each to examine our own prayers. Better yet, may we apply them, begin to actually pray more, and teach our students to do so as well!

How can we pray without ceasing?

“The other day one of our skete schema-monks came to see me. ‘I’ve fallen into despondency, Abba, since I don’t see in myself- in one who bears the exalted angelic habit- a change for the better. The Lord calls one strictly to account if he’s a monk or schema-monk only according to his clothing. But how can I change? How can I die to sin? I sense my total feebleness.’

‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘we’re absolutely bankrupt, and if the Lord judges according to works, He will find nothing good in us.’

‘But is there hope for salvation then?’

‘Of course there is. Always say the Jesus Prayer, and leave everything to the will of God.’

‘But what kind of benefit can there be from this prayer if neither the mind nor the heart participates in it?’

‘Enormous benefit. Of course, this prayer has many subdivisions, from simple utterance to creative prayer. But for us, even if we were to be on the bottom step, it would be salvific. The powers of the enemy run from one who utters this prayer, and sooner or later he’ll be saved all the same.’

‘I’ve been resurrected!’ the schema-monk exclaimed. ‘I won’t be despondent anymore.’

And so I repeat: say the prayer, even if only with your lips, and the Lord will never abandon you.” Elder Barsanuphius of Optina

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Peaceful, night-time prayer is of great assistance with its calmness and is also more efficacious for our spiritual development, just as the silent, night-time rain is of great benefit to growing plants.”  Saint (Elder) Paisios of the Holy Mountain Athos

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What is the best way for us to pray?

“Prayer consisting of words alone does not help if the heart does not participate in prayer. God hears only a fervent prayer. Abba Zoilus of Thebaid was once returning from Mt. Sinai and met a monk who complained to him, that they are suffering much from drought in the monastery. Zoilus said to him: ‘Why don’t you pray and implore God?’ The monk replied: ‘We have prayed and have implored, but there is no rain.’ To this, Zoilus replied: ‘It is evident that you are not praying fervently. Do you want to be convinced that it is so?’ Having said this, the elder raised his hands to heaven and prayed. Abundant rain fell to the earth. Seeing this, the astonished monk fell to the ground and bowed before the elder, but the elder, fearing the glory of men, quickly fled. The Lord Himself said: ‘Ask and it will be given you’ (St. Luke 11:9). In vain are mouths full of prayer if the heart is empty. God does not stand and listen to the mouth but to the heart. Let the heart be filled with prayer even though the mouth might be silent. God will hear and will receive the prayer. For God only listens to a fervent prayer.” – Saint Nikolai Velimirovich

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“Prayer should not depend upon our mood or good will.  If we are in a bad state, it’s because we are filled with sin.  Thus, we need to repent.  Every day, examine your conscience and repent.  Force yourself to pray regularly every day.  If you don’t want to do that, then you need to repent of that.  You must understand how necessary this is.   Know that the devil lurks and waits to destroy your soul, and that you are always in danger.  Prayer alone will give your soul the strength to resist.  In order to acquire spiritual muscles, you have to go to the spiritual gym.”  – Elder Sergei of Vanves

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“If we want to ask a favor of any person of power, we presume not to approach but with humility and respect.  How much more ought we to address ourselves to the Lord and God of all things with a humble and entire devotion?  We are not to imagine that our prayers shall be heard because we use many words, but because the heart is pure and the spirit penitent.” – St. Benedict of Nursia

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“If you wish to learn how to pray, keep your gaze fixed on the end of …prayer.  The end is adoration, contrition of the heart, love of neighbor.  It is self-evident that lustful thoughts, whisperings of slander, hatred of one’s neighbor, and similar things are opposed to it.  All this is incompatible with the work of prayer.” – The Blessed Callistus, Patriarch

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“Purity of prayer is silence from the converse of bodily thoughts, and the uninterrupted movement of the things which give delight to the soul.” – Saint Isaac of Nineveh

What should we pray for when we pray?

“Do not pray for the fulfillment of your wishes, for they may not accord with the will of God.  But pray as you have been taught, saying: ‘Thy will be done in me’ (cf. Lk 22: 42).  Always entreat Him in this way  –  that His will be done.  For He desires what is good and profitable for you, whereas you do not always ask for this.” – Evagrios the Solitary (Ponticus)

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“Let us be mutually mindful of one another, of one heart and one mind.  Let us ever pray for one another, and by mutual love lighten our burdens and difficulties.  And if one of us should, by the swiftness of divine action, depart from here first, let our love continue in the presence of the Lord.  Let not prayer for our brothers and sisters cease in the presence of the mercy of the Father.”  – St. Cyprian of Carthage

Why is prayer so important?

The first condition for the attainment of true prayer is a fervent desire to be saved and be pleasing to God, a readiness to sacrifice all for the sake of God and the salvation of one’s soul. As Bishop Theophan the Recluse states: Consider prayer to be the first and foremost duty in your life and as such keep it in your heart. Go about your prayers as to the fulfillment of your primary duty, and not as to something to be done between tasks.” http://www.antiochianarch.org.au/OrthodoxPrayer.aspx

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“Amidst the racket and ridicule of people my prayer rises toward You, O my King and my Kingdom.  
Prayer is incense that ceaselessly censes my soul and raises it toward You, and draws You toward her.  Stoop down, my King, so that I may whisper to You my most precious secret, my most secret prayer, my most prayerful desire.  You are the object of all my prayers, all my searching, I seek nothing except You, truly only You.” – Saint Nikolai (Velimirovich)

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“Oh, what great happiness and bliss, what exaltation it is to address oneself to the Eternal Father. Always, without fail, value this joy which has been accorded to you by God’s infinite grace and do not forget it during your prayers; God, the angels and God’s holy men listen to you.”  – St. John of Kronstadt