Tag Archives: spirituality

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

Gleanings from a Book: “Woven: An Interactive Book for the Modern Teenage Girl on Orthodox Christianity” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas

“Woven: An Interactive Book for the Modern Teenage Girl on Orthodox Christianity” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas is so much more than just a book! It is a journal that walks an Orthodox girl through many of the challenges she will meet in her teen years. It is also the centerpiece of an experience that a group of young Orthodox girls can share, to help them grow both individually and together. The heart of the book is to help Orthodox teen girls to embrace the reality that they are created by God and have been woven together on purpose, so that they can accept and share the love of God.

“Woven” is a beautiful book in so many ways. It is physically attractive, with page-by-page colorful accents which tie the chapters together. The illustrations sprinkled throughout the book are contemporary and tasteful. Even the text is eye catching: some phrases or quotes are in different fonts or colors, engaging the reader and encouraging thought. There is also a delightful balance between information, scripture, story, and creative response opportunities throughout the book. Readers of varying learning styles will resonate with different parts of this book.

Each chapter has a different focus. The chapters are set up to be experienced in order, in 6 chapter-sessions. The first focuses on helping each young woman find her identity in the truth that she is created to become like God, and that she is living her identity when she participates in His grace through the spiritual gifts He has given to her. The second looks at emotions and how to better understand what her emotions are telling her, so she can react in healthy, non-destructive ways. The third focuses on helping young women work towards being authentic in their self-understanding. Instead of trying to present a “perfect” self (conveyed by how she dresses or what she posts on social media), she is encouraged to know that God created her to be a joy, and that embracing this knowledge can help her to truly be a delight. The fourth encourages developing healthy friendships with other girls. It looks at behaviors that can harm those friendships, and suggests ways she can change her habits and break harmful cycles so those friendships can grow. The fifth looks at love and romance, encouraging the young women to step back and look at the world’s views on each, and to embrace the healthier ways to look at these topics which the Church has offered for centuries. The sixth chapter is a review of the book, offering once more the truth of God’s love and acceptance of each reader. It also offers space and time for reviewing each chapter to see what she has gleaned from the book as a whole.

While it is intended to be completed in a small group context (like an extended Sunday School class or a girls-only SOYO/GOYA small group), with a few adjustments a mom could guide her daughter(s) or a godmother could work through the book with her goddaughter(s). The free, downloadable discussion guide adds value to the book. There are a few parts of the book which will not make sense without it. The guide contains additional links, as well as a suggested movie to watch after each chapter/session. This book would make a wonderful series of monthly retreats for young girls in a parish!

We highly recommend “Woven.” It is an invaluable learning tool for the young women of the Church. The insights the girls will gain as individuals, the bonding they’ll experience with fellow Orthodox Christians, and the wisdom they’ll glean from their leader(s) are all of a value far beyond the small expenses of time and money required to provide this opportunity. We hope that many parishes will invest in their young women, weaving love into their hearts through this book and the experiences it affords.

Purchase “Woven” here: https://www.woveninhislove.org/book/

Discussion leaders (Sunday Church School teachers, SOYO/GOYA leaders, small group leaders, and/or moms) can download a free (and indispensable) facilitators’ guide here: https://www.woveninhislove.org/facilitators-corner/

 

Here are some gleanings from the book:

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woven in his image

“We are a mystery, even to ourselves, but in the next few weeks, we will hope to unravel part of that mystery by discovering more about how God has lovingly woven us so beautifully in His image.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 18)

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“We are each created with a purpose, not just in the broad sense of all people are created in God’s image, but in a deeply personal sense of: ‘God created me because he wants someone like me in the world.’” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 28)

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“No matter how bad you feel, no matter how bad things seem, please remember two important things:

  1. There is always something you can do to make things better. It may be really small or it may be really hard, but there is always something that can be done.
  2. God never bails on you! He never leaves you in the dust. You can turn anything over to Him.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 53)

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“Sometimes we feel like we have to change too much of ourselves in order to fit in and have friends. It’s one thing to modify some outward behaviors or change your appearance to fit it; it’s another to adapt so much to the crowd that you lose yourself… The problem comes when we try to be somebody else because we think people won’t like us.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 97)

***

“Can you imagine the relief Mary found in her friend, Elizabeth? In Elizabeth, Mary found love, assurance, support, encouragement, and a sisterly confirmation of their faith in the Lord. How amazing of a friend is that? …We are called to be a friend like Elizabeth—a blessing to others, a friend who brings peace and love to her friends’ minds, and helps them see blessings and hope as they face their fears, insecurities, secrets, and burdens.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 119)

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Woven illustration“Something that is very hard to understand is that people love you, but the unconditional, filling love we are looking for can only be given to us by the Lord. Only God can fill that lonely void that hurts so badly sometimes. God always accepts you. He always loves you; there is no rejection from the Lord.
He chooses YOU every day.
He thinks you are so worthy of love He sent His only child to die for you. He doesn’t wish you were prettier, smarter, or more athletic… He loves you exactly as you are; He created you because He wanted someone like you in the world.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 141)

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“We all want happiness here on earth, and sometimes we have that, but the heart of life is not what we get here, it’s who we are becoming in the light of eternity along the way. We are woven in His love and He understands us—God understands our complex emotions, our hearts and minds, the innermost needs that confuse even us. He loves us even when we’re a hot mess.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 158)

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Ps 139 Woven

Gleanings from a Book: “The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson

Author’s note: I am going to be forthright and admit that I’m cheating, and I’m actually okay with it. Perhaps I should explain. Ordinarily, when I review a book, I read it in one giant gulp before I share it with you. However, there is too much in this book’s 400 pages that I would miss if I did so, and selfishly, I don’t want to miss a thing. I want to experience Angela Doll Carlson’s daily walk through the first volume of the Philokalia as it was written and is meant to be experienced: one bit each day for a year. But at the same time, I am far too enthused about this book to keep it to myself until I have read the whole thing. My compromise is to “cheat” by reading from selected spots and sharing a few gleanings with you right now, so that you get a taste of it. I will be reading “The Wilderness Journal” as it was intended to be read in the year to come. Perhaps these gleanings will encourage you to join me!

Angela Doll Carlson’s book “The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” is a year’s worth of daily meditations on volume 1 of the Philokalia. That volume features writings from St. Isaiah the Solitary, Evagrios the Solitary, St. John Cassian, St. Mark the Ascetic, St. Hesychios the Priest, St. Neilos the Ascetic, St. Diadochos of Photiki, and St. John of Karpathos. “The Wilderness Journal” is divided into sections which feature each of those holy writers. Angela has invited a fellow author to introduce each writer. Thus, there are a few “guest author” days sprinkled throughout the book, one at the beginning of each section, immediately preceding the entries related to that writer’s quotes. Each subsequent day features one thought-provoking quote from the holy writer, and a short meditation related to that quote which Angela wrote as she pondered its message. She invites the reader to amble along slowly with her in this way through the first volume of the Philokalia, so that they, too, may learn “the love of the beautiful”.

I have read enough of the journal to know that I need it. I’ve found quote after quote that speaks to where I am right now: from needing to still my mind and focus on God; to learning to love and care for my neighbor; to being diligent in my pursuit of godliness; and so much more. Every entry offers a delectable nugget that I will be able to chew on all day long. Angela’s meditations grant the reader a glimpse of her take on the quote, as well as the opportunity to stretch their heart and mind in a way that is both good and helpful. She does not want the reader to consider her words as writing “about the Philokalia,” preferring rather that we readers read her words as “a book about [her] reading the Philokalia.”(p. 7) She recognizes that each reader may respond to the quotes in a different way, so she encourages each person to keep their own wilderness journal as they read.

As I mentioned above, I have not read this entire book yet. But I have read enough of it to be convinced that it will be an excellent aid for the spiritual growth of every person who reads it. So, dear community, here we are at the end of a calendar year. God willing, a brand new one gleams before us. As we step into this new year, please consider joining me in reading this book. Together, let’s walk through the year of “The Wilderness Journal,” learning and growing through these meditations on the first volume of the Philokalia.

Find your own copy of “The Wilderness Journal” here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/the-wilderness-journal-365-days-with-the-philokalia/

 

Here are a few gleanings I have gathered from what I read. I will share one quote from each holy writer, then a tidbit of Angela’s reflection on that quote.

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“Like a pilot steering a boat through the waves, he should hold to his course, guided by grace. Keeping his attention fixed within himself, he should commune with God in stillness, guarding his thoughts from distraction and his intellect from curiosity.” ~ St. Isaiah the Solitary

 

“I cannot silence the world. I cannot calm the waves… The world is what it is—noisy and beautiful and enduring. I can only look ahead to the shore and hold to the course. Today it means letting the phone ring, ignoring the dog barking, taking a deep breath and returning to these words when the waves crash against the side of the boat…” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 18)

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“You will recall how Christ did not reject the widow’s mites (cf. Mark 12:44), but accepted them as greater than the rich gifts of many others.” ~ Evagrios the Solitary

 

“Whatever you have, it’s enough. I say this, but I don’t believe it easily… as long as we see ourselves as profoundly lacking, we will not offer ourselves to another person… What is at risk today in knowing that in Christ, I am enough—not perfect, but enough?” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 57)

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“The Gospel teaches us to cut off the roots of our sins and not merely their fruits. When we have dug the root of anger out of our heart, we will no longer act with hatred or envy.” ~ St. John Cassian

 

“Anger is not without its bloom. We are angry sometimes for good reason. Anger, like pain, tells us something. But if left unchecked, it grows out of control and chokes the possibilities of beauty… The deep work of anger is regular maintenance for the soul…” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 93)

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“The intellect cannot be still unless the body is still also: and the wall between them cannot be demolished without stillness and prayer.” ~ St. Mark the Ascetic

 

“Even if it’s only one minute, I’ll take it. Even if, in the middle of the crazy busy-ness of this city, this family, this job, this life, I can contact the stillness, I will take it.

Each moment like that is a small stone I take from the wall that already exists between who I am and who I mean to be…” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 140)

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“A true monk is one who has achieved watchfulness, and he who is truly watchful is a monk in his heart.” ~ St. Hesychios the Priest

 

[On beginning to run again, as she prepared for a 5K]

“I was surging one week and retreating the next, feeling failure, reveling in improvement, rising and falling, and on and on. I did not realize that over time I’d developed a habit of running. ‘I’ve never been a runner,’ or ‘I hate running,’ I had said in the past. I may quit after this race and never run again, but those old statements will never be true again.
Habits show who we are.” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 248)

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“Through our anxiety about worldly things we hinder the soul from enjoying divine blessings and we bestow on the flesh greater care and comfort than are good for it.” ~ St. Neilos the Ascetic

 

“How far do I get from home before I begin to worry that I’ve left the door unlocked or the stove on? Not far…

So many reasons to worry. So many reasons to fear. How far do I get into the muddy pit of fear before I decide to move to prayer, to reach up and take a hand offered and pull myself out? Not far, I hope. Not far.” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 282)

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“We share in the image of God by virtue of the intellectual activity of our soul: for the body is, as it were, the soul’s dwelling place.” ~ St. Diadochos of Photiki

 

“It’s a funny thing about windows: two-way glass means I’m looking out, judging what I see, but if anyone were to look in, what a invasion it would be… This whole journey into the wilderness of the soul—the reading, the study, the prayer, the daily reflection—cannot merely be an exercise in looking out. This journey must allow for some looking in, as well.” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 346)

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“As we look up to Him with cries of distress and continual lamentation, it is He Himself that we breathe.” ~ St. John of Karpathos

 

“When my children were young and got hurt, I would hold them first, tell them I know it hurts, then tend to the wound. That embrace was foundational. Triage of the soul first. That embrace said, ‘I am here, so you are not alone…’
This is what God does for us when we lift up our hurts to Him…” (The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia” by Angela Doll Carlson, p. 396)

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On the Sacraments: the Sacrament of Ordination

This post is part of a series about the sacraments of the Orthodox Christian Church. In this post, we will look at the Orthodox Christian Sacrament of ordination, or Holy Orders.

The Orthodox Study Bible defines ordination as “The sacramental act setting a man apart for the ministry of the church by the laying on of hands of a bishop.” (1, p. 1784) Fr. Thomas Hopko’s writings about the sacrament of the Holy Orders begin by reminding his readers, first and foremost, that the Holy Orthodox Church believes and teaches that “Christ is the only priest, pastor, and teacher of the Christian Church. He alone guides and rules His people. He alone forgives sins and offers communion with God, His Father.” (2) These statements do not in any way downplay the importance of the “sacramental setting apart” mentioned above: rather, they help to clarify the role of the one set apart. Christ is continually active in the Church through the Holy Spirit, and He is manifested through these men who have been set apart for His service. “The sacramental ministry of the Church—the bishops, priests, and deacons—receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to manifest Christ in the Spirit to men. Thus, through His chosen ministers, Christ exercises and realizes His unique and exclusive function as priest, perpetually offering Himself as the perfect sacrifice to the Father on behalf of His human brothers and sisters.” Through them, He also teaches, shepherds, oversees, and serves. (2)

Why is this sacrament of ordination also called the sacrament of Holy Orders? Fr. Thomas says it is because those who are ordained give order to the church. “They guarantee the continuity and unity of the Church from age to age and from place to place from the time of Christ and the apostles until the establishment of God’s Kingdom in eternity.” (2) The Holy Spirit is given to them in a special way that helps them to do this work, and “manifest Christ’s presence and action in the churches.” (2)

Ordinations have been a part of the Church’s life from the start. Already in the book of Acts, we read, “So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” (Acts 14:23, OSB) The Orthodox Study Bible’s footnote on that verse offers this insight: “Elders are presbyters (priests) ordained by the apostles to nurture and lead the churches they established. The word translated ‘appointed’ (Gr. cheirotoneo) means ‘to ordain by the laying on of hands.’” (1, p. 1495) So, from the very beginning of the Church, per the book of Acts, priests have been ordained by the laying on of hands so that they can carry on the work they have been set apart to do.

“Through ordination, men who have been chosen from within the Church are set apart by the Church for special service to the Church. Each is called by God through His people to stand amid the community, as pastor and teacher, and as the representative of the parish before the Altar. Each is also a living icon of Christ among His people…  the process of ordination begins with the local congregation; but the bishop alone, who acts in the name of the universal Church, can complete the action. He does so with the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the imposition of his hands on the person being ordained.” (3)

Ordained leaders have numerous important tasks, and the work varies from order to order. “In the Orthodox Church to this day, the bishops and presbyters are called to focus on prayer and the ministry of the word, with the other ministries being accomplished by the deacons and the laity.” (1, footnotes on Acts 6:2-4, p.1478) The tasks to which those who receive the sacrament of Holy Orders are called are not easy. They cannot be taken lightly, but the Holy Spirit’s extra empowerment enables these men to undertake all that is set before them.

Let us thank God for those who have offered themselves through the sacrament of ordination. Let us support and help them in whatever way that we can. And let us keep them in our prayers, for we know that we are always in theirs.

Glory to God for His gift of the sacrament of ordination!

Sources:

  1. Various editors. (2008). The Orthodox Study Bible. USA: St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. (available here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/osb-hardcover )
  2. Hopko, Fr. Thomas (2011, October 5). The Sacraments: Holy Orders. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/holy-orders
  3. Fitzgerald, Rev. Fr. Thomas (1985, June 11). Understanding the Sacraments of the Orthodox Church. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/the-sacraments

Here are some resources and lessons on ordination that you may find interesting and helpful as you prepare to teach your students about this sacrament. What resources have you found helpful? Comment below and share them with the community!

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The Teaching Pics ( http://ww1.antiochian.org/christianeducation/teachingpics) offer a series of pictures on that can be very helpful as you teach a lesson on ordination and/or the holy orders. Pictures S17-S19 show three aspects of the holy orders: first, the diaconate, then the priesthood, and finally, the laying on of hands. The text accompanying each picture explains the process well at a level that even young children can understand. Find the teaching pics here: http://orthodoxchristianed.com/files/4114/9885/4473/ocec2017_2018.pdf

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Although these activities are suggested for parents to do at home, Sunday Church School students of various levels will benefit from the matching game about each of the holy orders; and the paper doll deacon/priest/bishop can be a useful way to teach about the various vestments of each of the orders. http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/ordersordination

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Find lessons on ordination for students at every level, here:

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/ordination

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/6-9-years-old/ordination

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/10-12-years-old/ordination

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/middle-school/ordination

http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/high-school/ordination

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These three videos related to ordination and the clergy will be excellent additions to a lesson on the sacrament of ordination.

Episode #116 of “Be the Bee” talks about hierarchy and why the church is set up that way: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1Hnqj-6_Eg

We learn about clergy vestments with this episode #117 of “Be the Bee:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlO02rQDQ6o

This episode #118 of “Be the Bee” reminds us that all of us are a royal priesthood: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THyitPa5ZVE

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Older students who listen to this podcast will get to hear what it is like to be a priest. Do you think any of your students may be headed for ordination? You could share this podcast and discuss it as a class. https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/orthodixie/priesthood_you_dont_wanna_do_that (Don’t worry, contrary to the title, it is a positive – but realistic – view of the priesthood!)

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Older students can read this article to learn more about the Holy Orders. http://www.antiochianarch.org.au/Holy-Orders.aspx
After they read the article, discuss the different Orders, and allow your students to create something to help them remember the different Orders. They could write about it or create a sketch or sculpture that represents first the laity, then the Minor Orders, then the Major Orders.

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ordination

Gleanings from a Book: “I Pray Today” by Angela Isaacs

Teachers desiring to help their Sunday Church School students grow in the Faith know that the students each need to embrace the Faith for themselves. These teachers must help their students to begin to nurture their relationship with Christ and His Church. One of the most powerful ways a teacher can do this is by leading their students into a life of prayer. Angela Isaacs’ new board book, “I Pray Today,” clearly models what it means to live a life of prayer. This book will help Sunday Church School teachers to help their young students begin to live a life of prayer. It begins thus:

Good morning, God. The day is new.
I say my first small prayer to You.
Lord, have mercy.

“I Pray Today” takes its readers by the hand and guides them through a day in the life of a young girl. Throughout her day, she wakes, eats, misses a sick friend, plays, gets hurt, and eventually unwinds and goes to bed, just like we all do. But at every turn, she prays, “Lord, have mercy.” (Well, one time she forgets, oops! But Daddy helps her to remember!)

Angela Isaacs has beautifully worded this book. Throughout her day, the little girl’s activities are conveyed in rollicking verses that are fun to read and delightful to hear. The clever rhymes are likely to be memorized in a short time, after a few re-readings. And at each moment, there’s a “Lord, have mercy!” as she turns to Christ in prayer throughout her day. Children will be drawn to the verses, and want to read the book again and again.

The illustrations in this book are simple and charming. Amandine Wanert uses child-level perspective (with an occasional “birds eye” for variety) to help children feel that they are right there in the young girl’s day. Readers will be drawn into the girl’s world and will recognize there elements of their own life. There are just enough details in each illustration to make it believable, without overwhelming the eye. Orthodox children will also find details like crosses and icons in her world which they recognize from their own world. Children will absorb these details and be comforted by their simplicity.

“I Pray Today” gently teaches its readers the value of prayer while also modeling what it looks like to pray throughout the day. Readers of all ages will enjoy this book. Children will like the lyrical wording and lovely illustrations, and adults will treasure its message. This book is a must for a Christian library, and can easily become part of a young children’s Sunday Church School lesson on continual prayer.

 

You can find “I Pray Today” here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/i-pray-today-board-book/

Here are a few related links and ideas that can help you as you share “I Pray Today” with your Sunday Church School class:
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“I Pray Today” author Angela Isaacs recently went on a blog tour, wherein she was a guest blogger on other blogs. On this tour, she wrote blogs related to her book that can be helpful to you as you prepare to use her book in your Sunday Church School classroom. Find the first one here (and links to the others at the bottom of the page): https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/raisingsaints/guest-post-from-angela-isaacs-what-parenting-taught-me-about-a-life-of-prayer/
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Even children older than toddlers will benefit from hearing/reading “I Pray Today.” Sunday Church School classes with children of varied ages can read the book as part of a lesson on prayer. After reading it, talk together about how to make God an important part of every part of each day. When is a good time to pray? Talk together about times in the day when each of you prays. Invite ideas of additional times you could pray. Invite your students to use this printable to help them commit to praying at one of those times.
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If “I Pray Today” strikes a chord with your students and they are inclined to pursue a more fervent prayer life, you may find this blog helpful: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/08/11/on-practical-reminders-to-pray/
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Share this quote from St. Ambrose of Optina with older students: “Pray for yourself and seek only the mercy and will of God; whether you are in church or outside of church walking, sitting or lying down, pray, ‘Lord have mercy, however you think best, however you will.’” Invite them to compare it to “I Pray Today,” and ponder how it relates to the book. What (if any) difference is there between the two? How can this quote shape our life of prayer?

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Teachers and older students who desire to boost their own personal prayer times may want to read this blog (and the book which it features): https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/09/01/gleanings-from-a-book-when-you-pray-a-practical-guide-to-an-orthodox-life-of-prayer-by-l-joseph-letendre/

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On Resolve for the New (Church and School) Year

As we draw nearer to the start of another Church (and for many of us, another Church School) year, we should prepare accordingly. This new year offers us the opportunity to begin afresh and look for ways to improve ourselves. With this in mind, let us approach this new year(s) with resolve.

Resolve is an appropriate word for the beginning of a year. Two of its definitions are especially appropriate. One way that Google defines resolve as a verb is, to “decide firmly on a course of action”. The start of a new Church/school year is a great time to do that! What action should we firmly decide to take?

We do well to consider that question, perhaps in the context of a few others! Let us take this chance to sit quietly alone, or with a spouse/family member/friend, and ponder the following:

  1. Evaluate. Think back over this season we’ve just come through. How did we do in that season? How have we changed for the good?
  2. Prioritize. Sort our habits, identifying the good “keepers” and bad “time to change this” habits. Also, make a list of what lies ahead in our schedule. Of everything on that list, what is most important?

Once we’ve looked at where we’ve been, how we’ve grown, and where we’re headed, we are ready for the noun form of resolve. One of Google’s definitions of resolve as a noun defines it as the “firm determination to do something”. There are many things we should firmly resolve to do. We will look specifically at these two:

  1. Slow down. Choose NOT to do everything. Some of our busyness is necessary, but if we are honest with ourselves, some of it is fluff. We need to grant ourselves permission to cut the fluff and not feel bad about it. So, what makes the cut in our schedule this year?
  2. Focus and talk. We need to decide who takes priority in our life. Once we’ve established that, we must plan ways to show them that they have priority over the other people and things (for example, technology) which demand our attention. When we genuinely talk with those around us – truly giving them focused attention – they know that they are really a priority in our life. How will we build face-to-face talk this year? And how will we minimize the distractions such as technology?

Let us resolve to grow together, both with our family and with our Sunday Church School students this year. It will be messy. That’s okay. Messy growth is still growth. In the process, let us embrace our imperfections and the imperfections of those growing with us. We need each other. How can we help each other to grow this year?

Here are some related links. Check them out to be further challenged in each of the ways mentioned above! May God bless our resolve in this new Church (and Church School) year!

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Evaluate this past season: How have we changed for the good?

“Be the Bee” episode #43 points out some of the beautiful things about Orthodox Christian Summer Camp. Perhaps one of our students was blessed with this opportunity this summer. How did camp change them for the good? What aspect(s) of camp can/should we continue on in the upcoming year? “With Christ at the center, every aspect of our days is blessed, lifted up and transformed into an opportunity to draw closer to God and neighbor.” (Watch the episode here: https://youtu.be/9Tw4XQa4QrA)

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Although this post is written for parents, we Sunday Church School teachers can certainly benefit from taking time to consider what all we have learned from our students during this season of our life. https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/29/on-learning-from-our-children/

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Prioritize.  Sort our habits, identifying the good “keepers” and bad “time to change this” ones.

“Be the Bee” episode #79 encourages us to pluck out the bad habits and plant good ones, instead! http://bethebee.goarch.org/-/-79-habits

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Slow down. Choose NOT to do everything.

In case you missed it before, this post encourages us to “save time.” Believe it or not, it is a post about slowing down. Check it out for yourself here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/11/05/on-saving-time/

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“People’s lives are sheer misery because they do not simplify things” ~ St. Paisios
Read more of what St. Paisios has to say on the subject, here: https://orthodoxword.wordpress.com/2010/06/12/simplify-your-lives-with-elder-paisios-of-the-holy-mountain/

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“…Telos.  A Greek noun, it means ‘an end, purpose, or goal; an ultimate aim…’ Our telos affects everything, even if it’s not what we think it is.  What do we really aim at? What do we really love?” Read one mom’s take on the culture of busyness here: https://thelivescript.wordpress.com/2018/02/22/for-which-generation-on-telos-and-techne/

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What mental and physical impact does our culture’s desperate busyness have on our students? Is that really what we want for them? Read about it in this blog post: https://raisedgood.com/childrens-busyness-not-badge-honour-need-change/

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Focus and talk. We need to decide who takes priority in our life.

Electronic devices have become an addiction in our culture, even among those of us who want to focus on Christ and teach our children to do the same. We’ve shared a few of these challenging links before, but are sharing them again in case you missed them the first time. It will take some time, but we strongly recommend that you read/listen to each of these:

“It’s easy to think of weekends as simply another opportunity to get more things done. But downtime is crucial, and there’s more evidence than ever it’s essential to our productivity and wellbeing.” Deacon Michael Hyatt challenges his readers to take breaks and close their laptops for their own good, in this article: https://michaelhyatt.com/close-your-laptop.html

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This conference speech points out some rather frightening ways in which technology is affecting even Orthodox Christians: http://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/2017_family_ministry_conference/technology_that_unites_and_divides

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This secular article divulges the psychology behind social media, and its intentionally addictive lure: https://medium.com/@richardnfreed/the-tech-industrys-psychological-war-on-kids-c452870464ce

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“…Focusing on the relationship with your child, rather than all of the tasks she must complete, will not only make your mornings easier, but it will also promote your child’s optimal brain development in the long run…” This article is geared to parents, but how could we apply it in our Sunday Church School classroom? How connected do our students feel with us, from the moment they walk into class? https://www.parent.co/one-thing-parents-can-make-mornings-smoother-according-science/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=SocialWarfare

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Some of these discussion starters could be used in a Sunday Church School classroom:

As you eat a snack together, consider playing one of these (age-leveled) games: https://thefamilydinnerproject.org/fun/dinner-games/

Here are 45 questions that will help you get to better know your students! https://www.nestedblissfully.com/funny-questions/

Find some sample questions here which will help to get children chatting. (If you want more, there is a link to where you can purchase the printable cards, too.) http://www.truelifeimateacher.com/2017/05/how-to-have-meaningful-classroom.html
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Let us resolve to grow together this year. It will be messy. That’s okay.

“The outcome of a growth mindset is a love of learning and a resilience, to accept and use constructive criticism.” This article reminds us that we’re not perfect, and that’s okay. We all have room to grow. Others – including our students – will help us. We need to embrace the imperfections, acknowledge our need for growth, and accept the help. https://angelinasgarden.wordpress.com/2018/04/16/my-kids-arent-perfect-and-im-okay-with-that/comment-page-1/#comment-295

 

On Struggle

Struggle. The word itself may make us shudder inside. In this culture of “live for yourself; do what feels good; if it doesn’t work for you, quit,” struggle is often labeled as evil, and we feel inclined to avoid it at all costs. Throughout time, humans have disliked struggle and attempted to be freed from it. Some have even considered struggle to be evidence of sin or wrongdoing, even touting freedom from struggle as evidence of godliness.

So, what’s an Orthodox Christian supposed to do with struggle? Should we try to evade it? If we are struggling, does that mean that we are failing in our Christian life?

Let’s begin by taking a look at the scriptures to see what they say about struggle. According to Strong’s Concordance, the Greek word for struggle is ἀγωνίζομαι, or agónizomai. It translates to English in different ways, including “to contend for a prize,” as well as “struggle.” We find it in Luke 13:24, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able”. We also find it in 1 Corinthians 9:25, “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” I Timothy 4:8-10 also uses the word: “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” And we find it again in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” According to the scriptures, struggle is necessary for the Christian life. Striving, competing, laboring, and fighting the good fight all help to urge us in the right direction: toward a deeper faith in God and His Kingdom.

What about the holy fathers? Do they teach us about struggle?
Yes, they do. If we examine their lives, we can learn much about struggle! But they also use words to teach us about it. Here are a handful of their many teachings about struggle:

“Nothing is so incongruous in a Christian, and foreign to his character, as to seek ease and rest.” ~ St John Chrysostom

“Of course, it would be easier to get to paradise with a full stomach, all snuggled up in a soft feather-bed, but what is required is to carry one’s cross along the way, for the kingdom of God is not attained by enduring one or two troubles, but many!” ~ Elder Anthony of Optina

“Do not grow despondent and enfeebled in spirit, seeing the constant struggle within you of evil against good, but like a good and valiant soldier of Jesus Christ, our great Founder, struggle courageously against evil, looking at the crown, prepared by the Lord for all who conquer evil in this world and in their flesh. ‘To him that overcometh, will I grant to sit with Me in My Throne’(Rev. 3:21).” ~ St. John of Kronstadt

“Brothers, as long as you have breath in your bodies, strive for your salvation. Before the hour comes in which we shall weep for ourselves, let us practice virtue eagerly. For I tell you that if you knew what good things are in heaven, what promise is laid up for the saints and how those who have fallen away from God are punished and also what torments are laid up for those who have been negligent – especially those who have known the truth and have not led a way of life worthy of it so as to inherit that blessedness which is reserved for the saints and to flee the punishments of these torments – then you would endure every pain in order to be made perfect in the virtue which is according to Christ.” ~ St Pachomius

“It is by warfare that the soul makes progress.” ~ St. Tikhon of Voronezh

Struggle. Sometimes it hurts. Always, it is hard. But, according to the scriptures and the holy fathers, it is necessary. Struggle allows us to embrace our Lord more tightly. It enables us to see His hand at work in our life. It provides us with opportunities to trust Him more fully. So, although we may not like struggle, and we may be tempted to try to be freed from it, we must not. Struggle helps us grow away from sin and towards godliness.

May the Lord strengthen us and help us to struggle.

 

Struggle is not just for us as adults to learn about and embrace. Here are a few ideas to help us teach our Sunday Church School students about struggle:

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Poor Ping. He is usually able to grow anything. When the emperor gives out seeds to all of the children and tells them to bring back their plants in one year – and that the plants will choose his successor, Ping cannot get his seed to grow. He struggles all year with that seed, trying everything he can think of, but nothing grows. He has to take the seed, in the dirt, ungrown, to the emperor at the end of the year… This retelling of a Chinese folktale, “The Empty Pot,” by Demi, will be an excellent addition to a lesson on struggle. (You can see the pictures and hear the story here: https://youtube.com/watch?v=nSoqBWPq8U0)

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Although these picture books are grouped together as books “addressing perseverance,” some of them definitely feature struggle and could be a great help to a class discussion. https://selfsufficientkids.com/childrens-books-perseverance/

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This secular lesson on the benefits of struggle may give you some ideas for helping your students learn the value of this difficult task! https://blog.classcreator.io/teaching-kids-to-struggle-growthmindset/

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Show younger students photos or video footage of an animal that needs to struggle in order to thrive. Here are some video links that may be helpful:

Birds emerging from their nest: http://earthporm.com/someone-put-camera-birds-nest-see-caught/

A butterfly emerging from its chrysalis:

https://youtube.com/watch?v=Gt-5lS9hJFA

Talk together about what you’ve just learned. If these creatures need to physically struggle as part of their normal growth, how much more should we humans both physically and spiritually struggle in order to grow!

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Share quotes about struggle from holy people with middle-years or older students as part of a discussion. Choose from those we wrote about in our discussion of struggle, and/or some of these: “Just as people do not enter a war in order to enjoy war, but in order to be saved from war, so we do not enter this world in order to enjoy this world, but in order to be saved from it. People go to war for the sake of something greater than war. So we also enter this temporal life for the sake of something greater: for eternal life. And as soldiers think with joy about returning home, so also Christians constantly remember the end of their lives and their return to their heavenly fatherland.” ~ St. Nikolai Velimirovich

“God’s grace always assists those who struggle, but this does not mean that a struggler is always in the position of a victor. Sometimes in the arena the wild animals did not touch the righteous ones, but by no means were they all preserved untouched.
What is important is not victory or the position of a victor, but rather the labor of striving towards God and devotion to Him.” ~ St. John Maximovitch

“Let us strive to enter by the narrow gate. Just as the trees, if they have not stood before the winter’s storms cannot bear fruit, so it is with us, this present age is a storm and it is only through many trials and temptations that we can obtain an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven.” ~Amma Theodora

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Send middle-years or older students searching in the scriptures. What do the scriptures say about struggle? Talk about how, according to the Strong’s Concordance, the Greek word for struggle is ἀγωνίζομαι, or agónizomai, which does not just mean struggle. It translates to English in different ways, including “to contend for a prize,” as well as “struggle.” Send them to find it in Luke 13:24, (“Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able”.) Can they locate it in 1 Corinthians 9:25? (“And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.”) How about in I Timothy 4:8-10? (“For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.”) The same word is used in 2 Timothy 4:7! (“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”) Comparing these four passages should give the students a better grasp on what agónizomai means, as well as an idea of how important it is to the Christian life! Ask them what they can conclude about it, based on these four passages. (Striving, competing, laboring, and fighting the good fight all help to urge us in the right direction: toward a deeper faith in God and His Kingdom.)

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With older students, begin a class on struggle by sharing this article to launch the discussion. The article points out how, in nature, struggle is necessary for growth.

https://heraldextra.com/print-specific/columnists/the-struggle-s-the-thing/article_f68dc972-8b19-5c55-ae39-4b0dc0bba3cc.html.

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“We can choose to look at all of life’s circumstances as opportunities to be sanctified. We can turn towards Christ instead of trying to face our passions on our own. And lastly, we should take heart and not be discouraged nor become judgmental of others who struggle against passions different from our own.” Teens and adults alike will benefit from reading this blog post on three lessons learned from St. Porphyrios, and it could be easily incorporated into a class on struggle. https://blogs.goarch.org/blog/-/blogs/three-lessons-from-saint-porphyrios

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