Tag Archives: spiritual labor

On the Lord’s Prayer: “And Lead Us Not Into Temptation”

If we pay attention to this petition in the Lord’s Prayer, it will cause us to stop and really think. Why are we asking God not to lead us into temptation? Does God ever actually lead us into temptation? Or are we asking Him to lead us in ways of righteousness, those ways which take us away from temptation? Regardless of whether or not we know the answers to these questions, we are certain of one thing. And that is this: we need God’s help to be delivered from the temptations that beset us. So we ask Him to lead us. And He does.

It is up to us whether or not we follow His leading.

 

Read more about this petition of the Lord’s Prayer:

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“First we clarified that God does not lead us to temptation, but that we are hoping He will lead us away, for we are here recognizing our weakness.  Temptation can surely come from outside us, from demons and bad influences, but temptation also comes from within — our own weaknesses and insecurities may cause us to want to lash out or to steal or to run from consequences.  Our weaknesses are our temptations, and in humility, we ask that God shield us and protect us, for we know that alone we are not strong enough to overcome all temptation, but through Christ Jesus there is nothing we cannot do.” ~ https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/raisingsaints/teaching-lords-prayer/

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“Is this then what the Lord teaches us to pray, that we may not be tempted at all? How then is it said elsewhere, ‘a man untempted, is a man unproved’; and again, ‘My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various temptations’ (James 1:2)? But does perchance the entering into temptation mean the being overwhelmed by the temptation? For temptation is, as it were, like a winter torrent difficult to cross. Those therefore who are not overwhelmed in temptations, pass through, showing themselves excellent swimmers, and not being swept away by them at all; while those who are not such, enter into them and are overwhelmed… If ‘lead us not into temptation’ implied not being tempted at all, He would not have said, ‘But deliver us from the evil one.’ Now the evil one is our adversary the devil, from whom we pray to be delivered.” ~St. Cyril of Jerusalem

Read this and more of what St. Cyril had to say about each part of the Lord’s Prayer here: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/03/lords-prayer-st-cyril-of-jerusalem.html

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“…this victory lies not in the ability to understand and explain evil but rather in the ability to face it with the full force of faith, the full force of hope, the full force of love. For it is by faith, hope, and love that temptations are overcome, they are the answer to temptation, the victory over temptations, and therefore the victory over evil.” ~ Alexander Schmemann, “Our Father,” p.79

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“…Christ didn’t once explain and therefore didn’t once justify and legitimatize evil, but he constantly confronted it with faith, hope, and love. He didn’t destroy evil, but he did reveal the power of struggle with evil, and he gave this power to us, and it is about this power that we pray when we say: ‘and lead us not into temptation.’”~ Alexander Schmemann, “Our Father,” p.80

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Idea: Talk with children about temptation either using the tug-of-war example in the lesson plan here, or the “bait” ideas as demonstrated in the attached video: http://ministry-to-children.com/temptation-object-lessons/. Then talk about how the petition “and lead us not into temptation” from the Lord’s Prayer can help us when we are tempted. Also, discuss how God helps us when we are being tempted. Talk about things to do when tempted: first, of course, would be prayer; then removing one’s self from the situation if possible; etc. Help your children think of hands-on things to do when they feel tempted. Create a list to keep posted somewhere where everyone can see it and be reminded of it.

On the Lord’s Prayer: And Forgive Us Our Trespasses As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us.

 

This part of the Lord’s Prayer is much easier to say than it is to live. We sin so often, and we come to God in confession and repentance, expecting Him to forgive us, for we believe 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We desire mercy, and we know that He who IS Mercy will extend it to us in spite of our sins. But this petition doesn’t just stop with “forgive us our trespasses:” it continues, “AS we forgive those who trespass against us. The bottom line is that our forgiveness is intimately tied to how we extend forgiveness to others. Forgiving others is not as easy as begging forgiveness for ourselves. May God help us to forgive, that we, too, may be forgiven!


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“The prayer ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’ has been especially emphasized by the Lord.’For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.’ (Matthew 6:14-15) This is the point of Christ’s parable about the unforgiving servant. (Matthew 18:23-35) All men need the forgiveness of God and must pray for it. All men are indebted to God for everything, and fail to offer the thanksgiving and praise and righteousness that are due. The only way that God will overlook and forgive the sins and debts of His servants is if they themselves forgive their brothers, not merely in words and formal gestures, but genuinely and truly ‘from their hearts.’ (cf. Matthew 18:35) In the prayer taught by Christ this is clearly acknowledged.” ~ from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/prayer-fasting-and-alms-giving/the-lords-prayer

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“This is a very difficult part of the Lord’s Prayer. Trespasses are the wrong things we do. We notice very quickly when someone is selfish and boastful, mean or untruthful. Sometimes it is very hard for us to forgive someone who has wronged us in any way. We dislike people for this and this means that we do not forgive them. But we say to God, please forgive my trespasses, my selfishness, my meanness, just like I forgive others. God wants us to be just as forgiving as He is.” ~ “The Lord’s Prayer,” “Little Falcons,” issue #39, pp. 13-14, available at http://www.littlefalcons.net/pdf/2014_Backissues.pdf

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“This should be the most terrifying line of the prayer.  We may not always stop to ponder its significance, but this line suggests that if we are not forgiving of others, we should not expect to receive forgiveness.  He further clarifies it in the Scriptures — Matthew 6:14-15:  ‘For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.’  Our students recognized the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18: 21-25) right away — God has forgiven each of us so much, and if we cannot learn from that experience and feel merciful and forgiving to others, then the mercies we have received will fade away.  We explained that it’s not that God is punishing us, it’s just that if we aren’t forgiving, we cannot receive forgiveness; somehow, the state of our heart is only open to forgiveness when we can humbly pass along forgiveness too.” ~ from https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/raisingsaints/teaching-lords-prayer/

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“Let us notice at the outset that this petition directly unites two acts: the forgiveness of our sins by God is connected to our forgiveness of sins committed against us… And, of course, precisely here in this connection, in this relationship lies the profound mystery of forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer.” ~ Alexander Schmemann, “Our Father,” p. 65-66

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“For the profound law of Life consists not simply in doing no wrong, but in doing good, and this means first of all to accept the other, which means to effect that unity without which even the most law-abiding society still becomes a living hell. This is the essence of sin, and it is for the remission of this sin, the sin of all sins, that we pray in the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer.” ~ Alexander Schmemann, “Our Father,” p. 70

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“Perhaps the terrible tragedy of our time, of those societies in which we live, consists precisely in the fact that while there is much to talk about legality and justice, while many assorted texts are cited, these societies have almost entirely lost the power and morality of forgiveness. This is why the petition in the Lord’s prayer for forgiveness of sins of those who sinned against us, and of us and our sins by God, and possibly the very center of moral rebirth before which we stand in this age.” ~ Alexander Schmemann, “Our Father,” pp. 71-72

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Idea: Use this simple hands-on object lesson to teach your Sunday Church School students about the importance of forgiveness: http://meaningfulmama.com/day-346-weight-lifted-through.html. This activity can help your students think about what it is like to live in unforgiveness, and why it is better to forgive: http://preteenministry.net/bible-lessons-on-forgiveness-for-kids/

On Scripture Memorization (part 1)

Author’s note: These blog posts are usually written to be used with Sunday Church School Students. While some of the information in this blog can be applied to your students, for the most part, this blog post is for you. May it be part of making you a better
Orthodox Christian, and thereby, a better Sunday Church School teacher!

“It is important for us to memorize the Holy Scriptures!” We often hear that statement, ponder it for a moment, agree, and go on with our lives. Since this new year is still fresh and we are still in the process of resolving to be better people, however, let us consider going beyond just thinking about memorizing the Scriptures and actually implement ways to do just that.

Why it so important for us to commit the Scriptures to memory? Metropolitan Kallistos Ware put it simply in an interview on “Come Receive the Light,” when he said, “The answer surely is–memorizing impresses the words upon us. By memorizing, we mark the words of the Bible in our heart. By memorizing, we make the words of Scripture part of ourselves.”

Historically, memorizing the Scriptures has been an important part of Orthodox Christian life. For example, St. Pachomius, considered by many to be the founder of communal monasticism, was a man of Scripture. He required prospective monks to memorize at least 20 Psalms and 2 of St. Paul’s epistles (yes, the entire books!) before they could join the community, and everything in the community itself was regulated by the Scriptures. He said,“The Scriptures are the single most important thing to guide our lives.”

Even today, our Orthodox Christian life should have at its very core the Holy Scriptures. The Gospel book resting on the altar of our Church is a constant visual reminder for us of how our life in the Church revolves around the Gospel of Christ. St. Seraphim of Sarov said, “We should swim in the words of the Holy Scripture, like a fish is swimming in the water.” In other words, we need to know the Scriptures so well that we breathe them, we are immersed in them, we live through them. As a fish cannot survive without the water in which it swims, we cannot properly live our Christian lives without immersing ourselves in the Scriptures.

So, let us resolve to work harder to commit the Scriptures to memory. As we memorize, the Scriptures will become part of ourself, guide our life, and settle to the very core of our being. Memorizing the Scriptures is a resolution worth making at any time, and regardless of when it is made, it is imperative that act on this one! Our spiritual lives depend on it.

Following are a number of links that can be helpful as we work on memorizing Scriptures.

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Listen to this podcast about the importance of memorizing Scriptures: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/nassif/desert_spirituality_for_city_folks_part_6_pachomius

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“I can remember going to Russia with a friend of mine who, like me, taught in University–and this was in the Communist era–when Bibles were very difficult to obtain. And I smuggled some copies of the Bible in Russian with me.

 

And when I was visiting a Church, and there weren’t many people around, I was speaking with an elderly lady and I said to her, ‘Would you like a copy of the Bible?’

 

And she said, ‘Oh! All my life I’ve wanted to have my own copy of the Bible. Yes,’ she said, ‘I have a friend who has a Bible, and sometimes she lends it to me and allows me to read it.’

 

And this astonished me. We take it for granted we can easily obtain Bibles. But that was not the situation under Communism in Russia. And so, I gave her a copy of the Bible. We were in Church and she took it and put it on a reading desk and opened it. And she began reading. And all the time she made Signs of the Cross and bowed to the ground. And tears flowed down her face.

 

And my friend said, ‘If we gave a copy of the Bible to one of our colleagues in the Theology faculty at the University, do you think they would react like that?’ So that opened my mind to what a great gift we have in the Bible, in Scripture. And how we, in the West, take this gift for granted. But often Christians under persecution have not been able to have their own Bibles.

 

Now in Russia things are much better, but in those days the Bible was a rare and precious book. And we ought to have the feeling that that lady had, as she wept to have her own copy of the Bible.” ~ Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, from an interview on “Come, Receive the Light” http://myocn.net/metropolitan-kallistos-ware-memorizing-Scripture/

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Read about 10 reasons to memorize Scripture, such as: our Lord Himself memorized Scripture; it helps us resist temptation; it renews our minds and transforms us; etc. Find these reasons and more here: http://www.unlockingthebible.org/reasons-memorize-Scripture-bible/

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Scripture memorization also helps to alleviate stress, helps us make wise decisions, and comforts us when we are feeling sad, as stated here: http://rickwarren.org/devotional/english/why-memorize-Scripture.)

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Here is one suggested method for Scripture memorization. It encourages us to learn the location of the verse, then the gist of what it is about, associate the verse with its location, and then carry the verse around with us so we can practice it until we have it completely memorized. Read more about this method here: https://carm.org/how-to-memorize-Scripture

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Wondering where to begin with Scripture memorization? This page offers many Scriptures that are important for Orthodox Christians to memorize: http://www.stlukeorthodox.com/html/biblestudy/meaningfulbibletexts.cfm. You may be surprised to see that you have memorized many of them already!

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This pdf offers ideas of ways to memorize Scripture, as well as beautifully written printable verses from the gospel of John that can be printed and posted around the house to help you learn: https://s3.amazonaws.com/a.voskamp/BlogFiles/theJesusProject(LARGE)MEMORYPRINTS.pdf

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Here are 8 verses from the Psalms, typeset over beautiful pictures, that you can print and cut out to make individual verse cards. Keep one by your bed or at your sink until you have it memorized, and then replace it with another: http://www.lovegodgreatly.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Memory-Verse-Cards-Printable.pdf

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Add a Scripture memory app to your phone such as this one: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.codeinfaith.bibleinme&hl=en

Learning About a Saint: St. Nectarios, the Wonderworker (Commemorated on Nov. 9)

A boy named Anastasios was once born in Greece to parents who loved each other, God, and their 7 children very much. Anastasios loved to obey his parents, to learn from his grandmother and his siblings, and to study in school. He especially liked learning to read. Why? Because he wanted to be able to read the Holy Scriptures, so that he could learn more about God!

When Anastasios was 14, his parents had to send him to another city to work and study. The work that he found did not pay very well, so he had ragged clothes and very little food. One day, he wrote a letter to Christ. In his letter, he explained that he did not have enough food or clothes. He asked his Lord, Jesus Christ, to send him what he needed. He sealed up the letter, marked it “To my Lord, Jesus Christ,” and went off to mail it. On the way, he began to talk with a kind man named Themistocles, who offered to deliver the letter for him. Anastasios gave the letter to him and went back to work.

Themistocles was curious about the letter, so he opened and read it. He knew that he could be the one that God used to answer the letter, so he then went out and bought the things that Anastasios needed, and sent them to Anastasios with a note saying these things were “for Anastasios, from the Lord Jesus Christ.” Anastasios was so grateful to God for answering his letter: he kept on thanking and thanking Him for providing what he needed.

Themistocles soon offered Anastasios work in his own shop, where Anastasios was better cared for and even had evenings free to read, pray, and study. Years passed, and Anastasios grew up. All that studying made him wise enough to teach, so he got a job as a teacher. He helped children to read and write, and also taught them more about God.

All this time, Anastasios spent as much time as he could in the church, participating and worshiping in the services. Finally the time came when Anastasios realized that he wanted to serve God as a monk. He was tonsured a monk, and given the name Nektarios.

Nektarios studied in Athens, and when he finished his studying, he was ordained a priest. He worked for a while in Egypt, doing the usual work of a priest like performing the services, as well as baptisms and marriages. He worked hard to help people stop arguing with each other, so he helped to bring God’s peace to his people. The people liked how Father Nektarios helped them, and they worked hard to obey him, because they knew that God was with him. Before too long, he was consecrated as a bishop.

Some unkind people didn’t like Bishop Nektarios. Because of that, they lied about him to the Patriarch, saying that Bishop Nektarios wanted to take away the Patriarch’s job. The Patriarch believed those people, and Bishop Nektarios was banished from Egypt and sent back to Greece. Bishop Nektarios was so sad to leave his friends, but he had to leave.

When Bishop Nectarios got to Greece, he was even more sad because of what he learned. The unkind people had sent the same lies to Greece ahead of him, so he was not able to serve in the Church or teach about God in Greece, either. But, instead of feeling sorry for himself or getting angry with God, or complaining, the Bishop prayed. He prayed that God would give him one place where he could preach.

God heard Bishop Nektarios’ prayers and provided an island, Evia, where he was allowed to preach. Bishop Nektarios was so happy that he went to the island and began to pray and preach there. At first, no one would listen because they had heard the lies, too, but the bishop kept praying and preaching. Soon the people of Evia got to know the bishop and they began to love Bishop Nektarios and attend the services with him.

After a while, Bishop Nektarios was asked to be the principal of a school for young men. He moved to Athens to do this job. He worked hard, teaching the young men about the True Faith. One day, the school’s janitor became sick. That man would lose his job if he did not get his work done. Bishop Nektarios, even though he was very important as the principal of the school, began to do the man’s work for him (such as sweeping, cleaning toilets, etc.) while the janitor was sick, because the bishop wanted to show his students that one must have faith but one must also do good deeds. He was a good teacher who knew how to teach not just with words, but also with his life.

While doing all of this, Bishop Nektarios helped every poor or sick person who came to him. People realized that he was kind and loving, so they came to him when they needed help. He always knew what to do to help the people who came to him; whether to give them things, tell them wise words from God, or to pray for them.

When Bishop Nektarios was old, he wanted to retire from being a principal. Years before, he had met some young ladies who had wanted to become nuns. He had told them to wait to be tonsured as nuns, to be sure it was God’s will. They had waited, so finally he gave his blessing for them to look for a place for a monastery. They found a deserted monastery on the island of Aegina, and the people of the island came to help restore it. Bishop Nektarios tonsured the young ladies as nuns, and then he built a cell outside the monastery for himself so that he could live nearby. (He also helped to build cells for the nuns, and also a church, even though he was old.)

Even though he was retired, Bishop Nektarios went on teaching. More young ladies came to be nuns at the monastery. So many of them came from poor families that they did not know how to read or write. Bishop Nektarios taught them how to do so, so that they could read and chant the services in the church. At the same time, other people on the island came to see Bishop Nektarios, to ask him for help, advice, and/or prayers.

Bishop Nektarios spent the last few years of his life in this way, on Aegina, working hard, and helping everyone that he could. After a few days in the hospital because of a disease he had for a long time, he departed this life on November 9, 1920. He had served God well for all of his life, and was ready to go to be with God. The nuns and the people of Aegina were sad to say goodbye to their bishop, but they also knew that now they had another person in heaven praying to God for them.

There are many, many stories of people who were healed through Bishop Nektarios’ prayers, both throughout his lifetime, and since he has departed this life. He is a good saint to ask to pray for you when you are ill. His prayers bring people peace just like his presence and his wise words did, when he was still alive on this earth.

“A man, with his mind in heaven were you, in the world still living,

O Nektarios, Hierarch of Christ. You led a devout and holy life,

and in everything you were truly impeccable, righteous, and inspired by God. “

~ from the Oikos

St. Nektarios, please intercede for our salvation!

This picture book is a great way to tell Sunday Church School students about the life of St. Nektarios: https://orthodoxchristianchildren.com/component/virtuemart/1071/9/children-s-books/the-story-of-the-holy-hierarch-nectarios-the-wonderworker-detail?Itemid=0

Learning About a Saint: St. Nectarios, the Wonderworker (Commemorated on Nov. 9)

A boy named Anastasios was once born in Greece to parents who loved each other, God, and their 7 children very much. Anastasios loved to obey his parents, to learn from his grandmother and his siblings, and to study in school. He especially liked learning to read. Why? Because he wanted to be able to read the Holy Scriptures, so that he could learn more about God!

When Anastasios was 14, his parents had to send him to another city to work and study. The work that he found did not pay very well, so he had ragged clothes and very little food. One day, he wrote a letter to Christ. In his letter, he explained that he did not have enough food or clothes. He asked his Lord, Jesus Christ, to send him what he needed. He sealed up the letter, marked it “To my Lord, Jesus Christ,” and went off to mail it. On the way, he began to talk with a kind man named Themistocles, who offered to deliver the letter for him. Anastasios gave the letter to him and went back to work.

Themistocles was curious about the letter, so he opened and read it. He knew that he could be the one that God used to answer the letter, so he then went out and bought the things that Anastasios needed, and sent them to Anastasios with a note saying these things were “for Anastasios, from the Lord Jesus Christ.” Anastasios was so grateful to God for answering his letter: he kept on thanking and thanking Him for providing what he needed.

Themistocles soon offered Anastasios work in his own shop, where Anastasios was better cared for and even had evenings free to read, pray, and study. Years passed, and Anastasios grew up. All that studying made him wise enough to teach, so he got a job as a teacher. He helped children to read and write, and also taught them more about God.

All this time, Anastasios spent as much time as he could in the church, participating and worshiping in the services. Finally the time came when Anastasios realized that he wanted to serve God as a monk. He was tonsured a monk, and given the name Nektarios.

Nektarios studied in Athens, and when he finished his studying, he was ordained a priest. He worked for a while in Egypt, doing the usual work of a priest like performing the services, as well as baptisms and marriages. He worked hard to help people stop arguing with each other, so he helped to bring God’s peace to his people. The people liked how Father Nektarios helped them, and they worked hard to obey him, because they knew that God was with him. Before too long, he was consecrated as a bishop. 

Some unkind people didn’t like Bishop Nektarios. Because of that, they lied about him to the Patriarch, saying that Bishop Nektarios wanted to take away the Patriarch’s job. The Patriarch believed those people, and Bishop Nektarios was banished from Egypt and sent back to Greece. Bishop Nektarios was so sad to leave his friends, but he had to leave.

When Bishop Nectarios got to Greece, he was even more sad because of what he learned. The unkind people had sent the same lies to Greece ahead of him, so he was not able to serve in the Church or teach about God in Greece, either. But, instead of feeling sorry for himself or getting angry with God, or complaining, the Bishop prayed. He prayed that God would give him one place where he could preach.

God heard Bishop Nektarios’ prayers and provided an island, Evia, where he was allowed to preach. Bishop Nektarios was so happy that he went to the island and began to pray and preach there. At first, no one would listen because they had heard the lies, too, but the bishop kept praying and preaching. Soon the people of Evia got to know the bishop and they began to love Bishop Nektarios and attend the services with him.

After a while, Bishop Nektarios was asked to be the principal of a school for young men. He moved to Athens to do this job. He worked hard, teaching the young men about the True Faith. One day, the school’s janitor became sick. That man would lose his job if he did not get his work done. Bishop Nektarios, even though he was very important as the principal of the school, began to do the man’s work for him (such as sweeping, cleaning toilets, etc.) while the janitor was sick, because the bishop wanted to show his students that one must have faith but one must also do good deeds. He was a good teacher who knew how to teach not just with words, but also with his life.

While doing all of this, Bishop Nektarios helped every poor or sick person who came to him. People realized that he was kind and loving, so they came to him when they needed help. He always knew what to do to help the people who came to him; whether to give them things, tell them wise words from God, or to pray for them.

When Bishop Nektarios was old, he wanted to retire from being a principal. Years before, he had met some young ladies who had wanted to become nuns. He had told them to wait to be tonsured as nuns, to be sure it was God’s will. They had waited, so finally he gave his blessing for them to look for a place for a monastery. They found a deserted monastery on the island of Aegina, and the people of the island came to help restore it. Bishop Nektarios tonsured the young ladies as nuns, and then he built a cell outside the monastery for himself so that he could live nearby. (He also helped to build cells for the nuns, and also a church, even though he was old.)

Even though he was retired, Bishop Nektarios went on teaching. More young ladies came to be nuns at the monastery. So many of them came from poor families that they did not know how to read or write. Bishop Nektarios taught them how to do so, so that they could read and chant the services in the church. At the same time, other people on the island came to see Bishop Nektarios, to ask him for help, advice, and/or prayers. 

Bishop Nektarios spent the last few years of his life in this way, on Aegina, working hard, and helping everyone that he could. After a few days in the hospital because of a disease he had for a long time, he departed this life on November 9, 1920. He had served God well for all of his life, and was ready to go to be with God. The nuns and the people of Aegina were sad to say goodbye to their bishop, but they also knew that now they had another person in heaven praying to God for them.

There are many, many stories of people who were healed through Bishop Nektarios’ prayers, both throughout his lifetime, and since he has departed this life. He is a good saint to ask to pray for you when you are ill. His prayers bring people peace just like his presence and his wise words did, when he was still alive on this earth.

A man, with his mind in heaven were you, in the world still living,

O Nektarios, Hierarch of Christ. You led a devout and holy life,

and in everything you were truly impeccable, righteous, and inspired by God. “

~ from the Oikos

 St. Nektarios, please intercede for our salvation!

This picture book is a great way to tell Sunday Church School students about the life of St. Nektarios: https://orthodoxchristianchildren.com/component/virtuemart/1071/9/children-s-books/the-story-of-the-holy-hierarch-nectarios-the-wonderworker-detail?Itemid=0

Here are a few ideas for you to use with your Sunday Church School students:

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Before teaching your Sunday Church School children about the life of St. Nektarios, you may wish to study more about him. Find a summary of his life here: http://stnektariosfund.org/stnektarios. Read about his life and see actual photographs from it here: http://www.orthodoxphotos.com/Holy_Fathers/St._Nektarios_of_Aegina/.

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“When he was still a young man, Anastasius (St. Nektarios’s name before he became a priest) made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. During the voyage, the ship was in danger of sinking in a storm. Anastasius looked at the raging sea, and then at the captain. He went and stood beside the captain and took the helm, praying for God to save them. Then he took off the cross his grandmother had given him (containing a piece of the Cross of Christ) and tied it to his belt. Leaning over the side, he dipped the cross into the water three times and commanded the sea, “Silence! Be still.” At once, the wind died down and the sea became calm.

“Anastasius was saddened, however, because his cross had fallen into the sea and was lost. As the boat sailed on, sounds of knocking seemed to come from the hull below the water line. When the ship docked, the young man got off and started to walk away.

“Suddenly, the captain began shouting, ‘Kephalas, Kephalas, come back here.’ The captain had ordered some men into a small boat to examine the hull in order to discover the source of the knocking, and they discovered the cross stuck to the hull. Anastasius was elated to receive his ‘Treasure,’ and always wore it from that time forward.”

Tell your Sunday Church School students the story of this miracle. Then, show them the photograph of St. Nektarios wearing that cross, at: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/11/st-nektarios-wonderworker-bishop-of.html. (While you’re there, you can also read more stories of St. Nektarios’ life.)

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“St. Nektarios is considered the Patron Saint for people who have cancer, heart trouble, arthritis, epilepsy and other sicknesses. Visitors to this shrine leave filled with the love and peace that St. Nektarios gave to all when he lived.

“St. Nektarios is a true icon of Christian love and patience. We are all called to love all people and to encourage them. As people of faith, we offer prayers as a means of help for all. St. Nektarios encouraged others by being with them at difficult times. He prayed to God to give them peace and courage to face their problems. We take him as our example. ” ~ from http://www.stnektarios.org/historyofsaint.php

With your Sunday Church School class, talk about how to love and encourage all people. How can we learn from St. Nektarios and continue God’s work on earth, acting as he did? Discuss who your class would be able to help, and make a plan for how to help, pray for, and encourage them.

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Study and discuss the writings of St. Nektarios.

1. His “A Hymn to Our Lord Jesus Christ” begins as follows:

CHRIST The Word! Thine Incarnation

Links my nature to Thine own;

By Thy sore Humiliation,

I am lifted to Thy throne;

By Thy suffering Thou hast fired me

With a zeal to sacrifice,

And to noble life inspired me,—

Hence my grateful songs arise.” ~ St. Nektarios the Wonderworker

Read the rest of this hymn here: https://gabrielsmessage.wordpress.com/tag/st-nektarios-of-aegina/

2. “Prayer is forgetting earthly things, an ascent to Heaven. Through prayer we flee to God.” ~ St. Nektarios the Wonderworker

Read more of his writings here: http://www.saintandrewgoc.org/blog/2013/11/12/writings-of-saint-nektarios-the-wonderworker-bishop-of-penta.html

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St. Nektarios is called “The Wonderworker” for a good reason: God works many miracles through him, even to this day! Here is one story of a miracle of St. Nektarios that you can share with your Sunday Church School students. This miracle happened recently in Romania: http://www.orthodoxmom.com/2009/11/04/miracle-of-st-nektarios/

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Send this iconogram of St. Nektarios to your Sunday Church School students: http://www.iconograms.org/sig.php?eid=283. Besides his icon, there is a brief summary of his life included. Encourage your students to ask St. Nektarios to pray for them.

On Materialism

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal;” (Mt. 6:19)

 

In this age in the United States of America (and, indeed, throughout the world), the acquisition of “stuff” is what many people embrace as their goal for life. With the forthcoming holiday season, the fight-to-convince-everyone-to-acquire-more-stuff will be intensifying all around us. But is more stuff really what we or the children in our care (such as our Sunday Church School students) need?

 

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (Mt. Athos) said, “I have realized that the destruction of man lies in the abundance of material goods, because it prevents him from experiencing the presence of God and appreciating His benevolence. If you want to take someone away from God, give him plenty of material goods. He will instantly forget Him forever.”

 

As Orthodox Christians, we do not want to forget God forever. (Nor do we want our children or Sunday Church School students to forget Him.) Neither do we want (them) to miss out on experiencing God’s presence and appreciating His benevolence. Therefore it is imperative that we be careful to set an example of simplicity and contentment in our own lives; and also encourage our students to place their hope in God, rather than in their things.

 

Beyond setting an example for them with our own lives, there are many ideas available to help us further teach our students to guard against materialism. Here are a few:

Ask your students what is their most prized possession. Have them write down what it is or draw a picture of it. Then, talk with your students about what is truly important in life. An idea of how one teacher did this is found at: http://www.5thgradecommoncore.com/blog/my-most-prized-possession-lesson. After the discussion, ask the students to look again at their original “most prized possession.” Is it still their most prized? Or is there something else that is more valuable? Ask them to tell the class, and explain why they ended up with what they did.

 

Encourage your students to focus any comparisons they may make on those less fortunate than them. Because, as Theodore Roosevelt so aptly put it, “comparison is the thief of joy,” we must be careful not to compare ourselves and our stuff to others. If we do compare, then  we should compare ourselves to those who have less than we do. We can work to this end by teaching our students that not everyone has as much as they do. For example, we can show them the pictures on this page http://borgenproject.org/children-and-their-most-prized-possessions/. The page features pictures of children from different parts of the world, photographed with their most prized possessions. Talk together as a class about the photos and how it feels to have so much more than these real kids do. Brainstorm ways your class can help provide for children in your neighborhood or around the world who do not have enough.

 

Use the plethora of advertisements (perhaps bringing in one copy of the Sunday paper would suffice to this end) which appeal to our greed as an opportunity to talk with your students. Discuss how the companies who pay for the advertisements are trying to make you feel discontent with what you have, and convince you that you need to buy their product. Talk with your students about the products being advertised. Do the students really think the items as amazing as they are advertised to be? What makes them think so/not? (Idea from  http://www.parenthood.com/article/10_simple_ways_to_combat_greed.html#.VEf6AseJOuZ.)

 

Consider challenging your students to join you in the Minimalism Game (see http://www.theminimalists.com/game/ for details). On day 1 of the game, each participant gets rid of (gives away, recycles, or otherwise shares) one item before midnight. On day 2, two items; day 3, three; etc. The participant who keeps at it the longest is the winner! (Actually, everyone who participates wins because of eliminating excess in their home while helping others!)

 

‘Tis the season… to face materialism head on and find ways to combat its influence in our lives and in the lives of our students. As we successfully turn away from our greed and toward Christ and His people, we will, indeed, be storing up “treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt. 6:20-21)

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Additional lesson ideas:

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Show your students (of any age) the book Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Peter Menzel. If you don’t have access to the book you could print out and show (or show on your computer screen) several of these photos from that book: attp://menzelphoto.photoshelter.com/gallery/Material-World-Family-Portraits/G0000Ip09fSBViW8/C0000d0DI3dBy4mQ. After looking at the pictures, discuss what your students see in them, as is appropriate to their age level: How are these different families doing with their material goods? Which families look content? Does their contentment seem to have anything to do with how much stuff they have? If your students took a picture like this with their family and their stuff, what would it look like? Would they look content?

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Teachers of very young Sunday Church School children can read a book such as More by I. C. Springman to their class. After reading, use the story to begin an age-appropriate discussion about materialism.

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Students in grades K-6 will benefit from this lesson on (not) loving money, which focuses on 1 Timothy 6: 6-10. Find the lesson at: http://ministry-to-children.com/the-love-of-money-bible-lesson/. The lesson is well documented and printable!

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Older elementary or middle school students could begin a discussion on materialism with this skit on “stuff”: http://www.kidssundayschool.com/618/gradeschool/stuff.php. It is available for download as a pdf, so that you can print copies for the students who will read/perform the skit.

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Middle or high school Sunday Church School students can read and the discuss this article about one couple who pared back their lives: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/business/08consume.html?adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1414166722-C2NoCO+I+Pw8Upcc5k4g1Q. What are the results of their simpler living? How does this simpler living work for the pair?

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 Print and cut apart the following quotes (or any others you may find and add) about materialism and/or contentment. High school students can select a quote from a basket in which you have placed the cut-apart quotes. The students then take turns to read their quote to the class, and begin a discussion about the quote by stating whether or not they agree with it, as well as why. Together as a class, read 1 Tim. 6:6-10. Compare that quote to the others that had been read. Students can then each select their favorite quote, and illustrate it. Hang the illustrations around your classroom to remind you all to be content with what you have; and to avoid materialism.

Contentment vs. Materialism Quotes:

“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have. ” ~ Socrates

“To be content with little is difficult; to be content with much, impossible.” ~Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, Aphorisms

 

“The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.” ~ Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

 

“We’ve got a sort of brainwashing going on in our country, Morrie sighed. Do you know how they brainwash people? They repeat something over and over. And that’s what we do in this country. Owning things is good. More money is good. More property is good. More commercialism is good. More is good. More is good. We repeat it–and have it repeated to us–over and over until nobody bothers to even think otherwise. The average person is so fogged up by all of this, he has no perspective on what’s really important anymore.

 

Wherever I went in my life, I met people wanting to gobble up something new. Gobble up a new car. Gobble up a new piece of property. Gobble up the latest toy. And then they wanted to tell you about it. ‘Guess what I got? Guess what I got?’

 

You know how I interpreted that? These were people so hungry for love that they were accepting substitutes. They were embracing material things and expecting a sort of hug back. But it never works. You can’t substitute material things for love or for gentleness or for tenderness or for a sense of comradeship.

 

Money is not a substitute for tenderness, and power is not a substitute for tenderness. I can tell you, as I’m sitting here dying, when you most need it, neither money nor power will give you the feeling you’re looking for, no matter how much of them you have.” ~ Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie

 

“It is the preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else that prevents us from living freely and nobly.” ~ Bertrand Russell

 

“Life isn’t about having, it’s about being. You could surround yourself with all that money can buy, and you’d still be as miserable as a human can be. I know people with perfect bodies who don’t have half the happiness I’ve found. On my journeys I’ve seen more joy in the slums of Mumbai and the orphanages of Africa than in wealthy gated communities and on sprawling estates worth millions. Why is that? You’ll find contentment when your talents and passion are completely engaged, in full force. Recognise instant self-gratification for what it is. Resist the temptation to grab for material objects like the perfect house, the coolest clothes or the hottest car. The if I just had X, I would be happy syndrome is a mass delusion. When you look for happiness in mere objects, they are never enough. Look around. Look within.” ~ Nick Vujicic

The Real To-Do List

Teachers always have a to-do list. There is always research to do, a lesson to plan, a classroom management idea to investigate, a craft to try, a classroom display to create, etc. Adding all of that on top of the everyday to-do lists of life such as groceries, laundry, work, etc. can make teachers incredibly busy people. In the midst of this busyness, it is easy to neglect the important things: the spiritual things that really ought to be at the top of each of our to-do lists. The lazy neglect of these truly important things is harmful to our souls and the souls of our Sunday Church School students. Let us be diligent and press on towards the goal of our spiritual “to-do” list, as well!

“What is beautiful and well-made belongs to the world and cannot comfort those who want to live a spiritual life.  There is no wall that will not eventually be torn down.  One soul is worth more than the entire world.  What must we do for the soul?  We must begin spiritual work.  We must have only the right kind of concern.  Christ will ask us what spiritual work we have accomplished, how we helped the world in spiritual matters.  He will not ask what buildings we made.  He will not even mention them.  We will be held accountable for our spiritual progress.  I want you to grasp what I am trying to say.  I am not saying that one must not construct buildings, and not construct them well, but one must take care of the spiritual life first and then mind the rest, and do all that with spiritual discernment.” –  Saint (Elder) Paisios of the Holy Mountain, Athos

 

Following are quotes from the Spiritual Fathers on our good and divine work. This work includes prayer, study, worship, trust in God, humility, and much more. May these quotes encourage us to keep our priorities right; to work to acquire the Kingdom of Heaven first and foremost; and to allow God to work in and through our lives. Work done at the true top of our “To-Do List” will trickle down through the rest of the list, sanctifying and blessing all of our work; as well as all those around us.

 

“Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” ~ St. Seraphim of Sarov (Read http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2007/09/17/what-st-seraphim-meant/ for practical suggestions of how to do so.)

“Boredom is the grandson of depression and laziness is the daughter.  To send her away, labor actively—do not be lazy in prayer, then boredom will pass and zeal will come.  And if you add to this patience and humility, then you will escape much evil.

“If you do not feel like praying, you have to force yourself.  The Holy Fathers say that prayer with force is higher than prayer unforced.  You do not want to, but force yourself.  ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is taken by force, (Matt 11:12).’”  – Elder Ambrose of Optina

“(The Pure soul — or truly rich man) is ever laboring at some good work and divine work; even though he be necessarily sometime or other deprived of them (possessions) is able with cheerful mind to bear their removal equally with their abundance.” ~ Clement of Alexandria

“It is, therefore, immediately obvious that we must toil with diligence and not think that our goal of piety offers an escape from work or a pretext for idleness, but occasion for struggle, for ever greater endeavor, and for patience in tribulation, so that we may be able to say: ‘In labor and painfulness, in much watching, in hunger and thirst.’ Not only is such exertion beneficial for bringing the body into subjection, but also for showing charity to our neighbor in order that through us God may grant sufficiency to the weak among our brethren, according to the example given by the Apostle in the Acts when he says: ‘I have shown you all things, how that so laboring you ought to support the weak,’ and again: ‘that you may have something to give to him that suffereth need.’ Thus we may be accounted worthy to hear the words: ‘Come ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink.’

“Thus, in the midst of our work can we fulfill the duty of prayer, giving thanks to him who has granted strength to our hands for performing our tasks and cleverness to our minds for acquiring knowledge, and for having provided the materials, for that which is in the instruments we use and that which forms the matters of the art in which we may be engaged, praying that the work of our hands may be directed toward its goal, the good pleasure of God.

“Thus we acquire a recollected spirit — when in every action we beg God the success of our labors and satisfy our debt of gratitude to Him who gave us the power to do the work, and when, as has been said, we keep before our minds the aim of pleasing Him.” ~ St. Basil the Great
“But since the mind is something that is in constant motion and incapable of total inactivity, it is necessary that it should be concerned with and eager to practice the commandments of God. So the whole life of men is filled with care and concern and cannot be wholly at leisure, even if many have striven to achieve it. though it is beyond their ability and power. but in the beginning man was created with such a nature, for in paradise Adam was enjoined to till the ground and care for it [Gen. 2:15] and there is in us a natural bent for work, the movement toward the good. Those who yield themselves to idleness and apathy, even though they may be spiritual and holy, hurl themselves into unnatural subjection to passions.” ~ Simeon the New Theologian

“‘There can be no rest for those on earth who desire to be saved,’ says St. Ephrem the Syrian. The struggle is unceasing be it either external or internal. The adversary acts visibly at times through men and other things and at other times, invisibly through thoughts. At times, the adversary appears openly and behaves brutally and cruelly like an enemy and, at other times, under the guise of a flattering friend, he seduces by shrewdness. That which occurs in battle between two opposing armies also occurs to every man individually in battle with the passions of this world. Truly, ‘There can be no rest for those on earth who desire to be saved.’ When salvation comes, rest also comes.” – Saint Nikolai Velimirovich, The Prologue from Ohrid, April 11

“It is very profitable to occupy oneself with reading the word of God in solitude, and to read the whole Bible intelligently.  For one such occupation alone, apart from good deeds, the Lord will not leave a person without His mercy, but will fill him with the gift of understanding.” – Saint Seraphim of Sarov
“Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).  Why did he say ‘strive?’   Because it is not possible for us to become holy and to be saints in an hour!  We must therefore progress from modest beginnings toward holiness and purity.  Even were we to spend a thousand years in this life we should never perfectly attain it.  Rather we must always struggle for it every day, as if mere beginners.” – St. Symeon the New Theologian, (949-1022)