Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

On Giving Thanks in All Things

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5: 16-19, OSB)

Life as a Christian offers us the challenge of trying to follow God and fulfill His will for our life as best we can. Throughout our life, we wonder, “What is God’s will for my life? What should I do? What choice(s) should I make that will align with His will?”

When we read the scriptures, we find the answer to those questions in one of St. Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5: 16-19, Orthodox Study Bible) God in His mercy has offered us these three doable tasks which accomplish His will for us. His will is that we do everything with rejoicing, prayer, and thanksgiving.

These actions of rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks are not big projects, jobs, or major decisions, are they? But neither are they simple: they require effort! They demand that we make a conscious (and constant!) endeavor to act in ways that may not come easily to us. Each requires us to have a certain attitude (of joy, prayerfulness, and thanksgiving) and then to act on that attitude (by rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks).

We have written before about the “pray without ceasing” portion of God’s will for us (see https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/08/09/on-practical-reminders-to-pray/). At this time of year, those of us who are Americans are thinking about being thankful as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, so it seems a natural time to ponder the next part of God’s will for us: giving thanks in everything.

St. Paul writes, “in everything give thanks.” At Thanksgiving, it’s fun to think about what we’re thankful for – our Lord’s great mercy towards us, our home, our family, our Church, our food, etc. We should be thinking of those things, and it is right for us to give thanks for them. But St. Paul does not write, “in the good things in your life” or “in the things that you like about your life give thanks.” Nope. He writes “in EVERYTHING give thanks.”

Wait, so if we are to give thanks in everything, that means that in our illness, in our loneliness, in our depression, in our anxiety, in our loss, in our struggle, we give thanks?!? How do we really do that? And why?

The how is perhaps the most difficult part. When we are experiencing struggle, it is so hard to reach outside of that struggle; or to even think beyond it. Our struggle is a black cloud, suffocating (sometimes literally) even our ability to breathe. How can we give thanks in that?!? Fr. Stephen Freedman’s blog post “Giving Thanks for all Things” (see link below) states that genuine thanksgiving is centered in accepting God’s will. “The acceptance of God’s will is the very heart of giving thanks. To give thanks is to recognize first that what has come your way is a gift, and second, that the giver of every gift is the good God. Many become troubled at the thought of giving thanks for something terrible (a disease or accident). This giving of thanks is not a declaration that the thing itself is good, but that God Himself is good and that He works in and through all things for our salvation.” He shares the struggles of Elder Thaddeus of Vatovnica, who experienced anxiety and depression for years before coming to understand the importance of accepting God’s will and truly trusting His control of our circumstances (as well as His promise to carry us through our trials). He said, “I realized that we all worry about ourselves too much and that only he who leaves everything to the will of God can feel truly joyous, light, and peaceful.” Fr. Stephen’s article goes on to offer a prayer that he prays when he finds himself in such circumstances. This prayer may be helpful to us, as well: “For myself, I pray, ‘Give me grace, O Lord, to accept all that you give, for you are good and Your will for me in all things is good.’” Then he continues, “I often add words such as, ‘Blessed be the Name of the Lord.’” Abba Macarius offered a similar – though more brief – prayer. He said, “There is no need at all to make long discourses; it is enough to stretch out one’s hand and say, ‘Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy.’ And if the conflict grows fiercer say, ‘Lord help!’ God knows very well what we need and He shows us His mercy.”

Besides the how of giving thanks in all things, the why is also a challenge. Why should we give thanks in painful experiences? St. John Chrysostom said, “The mark of a soul that loves wisdom always gives thanks to God. If you have suffered evil, give thanks and it is changed to good… Give thanks even in disease, lack of possessions, or false accusations.” (Note: St. John didn’t just say this—he lived it. He was old when he was exiled because of an empress who didn’t like that his teachings did not support her vain and selfish lifestyle. While still traveling to his place of exile, he became sick and departed this life. His final words? “Glory to God in all things.” Even old, ill, unjustly exiled, and in pain, St. John gives thanks to God.) So, according to St. John Chrysostom, giving thanks to God in all things can help to change evil to good in our life. As Elder Thaddeus mentioned above, giving thanks in all things demonstrates that we truly trust God, that He is truly in control of our life, and that He will indeed not give us more than we can handle. 1 Corinthians 10:13 offers us hope in this regard: “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (NKJV) In the Philokalia, St. Antony the Great offers this reason to give thanks in all things: “The truly intelligent man pursues one sole objective: to obey and conform to the God of all. With this single aim in view, he disciplines his soul, and whatever he may encounter in the course of his life, he gives thanks to God for the compass and depth of His providential ordering of all things. For it is absurd to be grateful to doctors who give us bitter and unpleasant medicines to cure our bodies, and yet to be ungrateful to God for what appears to us to be harsh, not grasping that all we encounter is for our benefit and in accordance with His providence. For knowledge of God and faith in Him is the salvation and perfection of the soul.”

Perhaps, (especially if we are celebrating Thanksgiving) in addition to noticing all the good things in our life and taking time to thank God for them, we can also select one of the difficult things in our life to think—and thank—about. Just one, for now: everything might overwhelm us! Let’s take a moment to look objectively at our life and compare ourselves now to how we were before this difficult thing happened or began to happen in our life. Have we grown at all? Thanks be to God! Do we see Him rooting out some sin in our life or beginning to bringing healing to us through this thing? Thanks be to God! Is this thing helping us to reach out to others because we need their help in this thing, or because it helps us to better understand some similar thing that they have experienced? Thanks be to God! Can we see no growth in us except a deeper trust in God’s goodness and love? Thanks be to God! As we learn to give thanks for this one thing, we can begin to give thanks for a second, third, and so on. One day, God willing (and by His grace), we will truly give thanks in everything. That is, after all, the will of God in Christ Jesus for us!
Find Fr. Stephen Freedman’s article mentioned above, here: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2017/06/21/cross-gods-glory-things/

Here are some links related to giving thanks that may help us in this effort:

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The Akathist of Thanksgiving is a favorite akathist to pray, especially at this time of year. Here’s a blog post that introduces the akathist, in case you are not familiar with this beautiful way to give thanks: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/giving-thanks/

This Akathist is a beautiful one to share with your students, either in class, or to send home with them that they can pray with their family at home.

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If you are celebrating Thanksgiving at this time of year, you may want to encourage your students to incorporate the Akathist of Thanksgiving into their celebration. Here are a few suggestions of ways to do that: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/11/21/incorporating-the-akathist-of-thanksgiving-into-a-thanksgiving-celebration/

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Want to help your students think about thanksgiving and/or being thankful? Here are a few books that could help. What others do you recommend?  https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/11/20/to-celebrate-picture-book-month-with-books-about-thankfulness/

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Perhaps these practical suggestions will help you to build gratitude in your students’ life: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/on-living-a-life-of-gratitude/

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Gratitude is one of the virtues. This blog will help you teach your students about this virtue (in case you missed it):  https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2018/03/23/on-pursuing-virtue-gratitude/

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“The life that we are called to live as Christians is the ‘eucharistic’ life [eucharistein = to give thanks]. It is the most essential activity for humanity… That for which we cannot or will not give thanks is that which we are excluding from the Kingdom – from the possibility of redemption in Christ… The limitations of our thanks (which is quite common) is also a limitation on God’s grace, refusing for His grace to work in all the world and for it to work in the whole of our own lives.” ~ from “The Difficult Path of Giving Thanks” by Fr. Stephen Freeman https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2011/02/09/the-difficult-path-of-giving-thanks/

This blog post offers insights into the importance of living thankfully, and will challenge (and encourage!) its readers. Older students could read this blog post and discuss it in class!

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On Pursuing Virtue: Gratitude

Author’s note: Although we have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), we will continue this series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

We will begin this conversation where we often end other ones: with gratitude. We teach our children to say “thank you,” but gratitude is much more than remembering to say these words after receiving a gift or eating a meal! True gratitude is a lifestyle. Fr. Thomas Hopko, in his book The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality, says, “The spiritual person is the one who is grateful for everything. He is the one who receives everything with thanksgiving, and who knows that he has nothing except what he has received from God.”

St. Nikolai Velimirovich agrees, and elaborates in his Prologue from Ochrid: “For as long as you are on earth, consider yourself a guest in the Household of Christ. If you are at the table, it is He who treats you. If you breathe air, it is His air you breathe. If you bathe, it is in His water you are bathing. If you are traveling, it is over His land that you are traveling. If you are amassing goods, it is His goods you are amassing. If you are squandering, it is His goods that you are squandering. If you are powerful, it is by His permission that you are strong. If you are in the company of men, you and the others are His guests. If you are out in nature, you are in His garden. If you are alone, He is present. If you set out or turn anywhere, He sees you. If you do anything, He remembers. He is the most considerate Householder by Whom you were ever hosted. Be careful then toward Him. In a good household, the guest is required to behave. These are all simple words but they convey to you a great truth. All the saints knew this truth and they governed their lives by it. That is why the Eternal Householder rewarded them with eternal life in heaven and glory on earth.” This type of mindset – really remembering that everything, EVERYTHING, is God’s and we are simply His guests, staying in His home and borrowing His linens – completely changes our possessive assumptions and multiplies our gratitude.

Fr. Hopko continues his discussion on gratitude by pointing out that from the time of the Old Testament, thanksgiving has been central to life for the people of God. In the Old Testament times, sacrifices of thanksgiving were offered in the temple, and the Psalms sang thanks to God. This attitude continued in the New Testament times! The word “eucharist” means thanksgiving, so from that time to this day, our worship centers around being grateful: we lift up our hearts and give thanks to the Lord!

Fr. Hopko points out that the Scriptures and the lives of the saints are full of thanksgiving to God, not just for the “good” things, but for everything! The saints have shown their complete trust in God’s provision and care. They have modeled gratitude for us in their deeds and words. St. John Chrysostom reminds us that even things that may look bad to us can be used to bring spiritual growth and salvation by God’s grace! (And he did not just say this. He lived it. He was in the process of being exiled in old age when he died, and yet his last words were, “Glory to God for all things!”)

Fr. Hopko states that the opposite of gratitude is bitterness and complaining. If we are proud and covetous, we will complain about our life. Complaining shows that we are lacking a humble trust in God, and thereby we do not thank Him for everything! When we trust Him absolutely, we will be at peace.

Fr. Hopko closes his chapter on gratitude with this statement: “A person is grateful to the extent that he trusts in the Lord and has love for God and man.”

 

Read more of Fr. Thomas Hopko’s wise words about the virtues, as written in his book, here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues

Here are some scriptures about gratitude, how children benefit from living a life of gratitude, and a few ideas of ways to help our students learn about this virtue:

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Scriptures related to gratitude (let your class read them, let each student select one to artistically copy/decorate, and/or assign each verse to a small group of students who work together to dramatically present their verse to the rest of the class):
And from His fullness have we all received, grace upon grace (Jn 1.16).
Sing praises to the Lord, O you His saints, and give thanks to His Holy Name.
Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving. Let us enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name!
It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to Thy Name, O Most High; to declare Thy steadfast love in the morning, and Thy faithfulness by night.
O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is gracious, for His mercy endures forever! (Pss 30.4, 95.2, 92.1, 107.1).
Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving . . . always and for ­everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father (Eph 5.4, 20).
Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thess 5.16–18).
Rejoice always in the Lord; again I say, Rejoice! Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4.4–7).
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“…researchers are now turning their attention to how gratitude can better the lives of children, too. They’re finding that the experience of high levels of gratitude in the adolescent years can set a child up to thrive.” Read about some of the research and findings in this excellent article: https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-raise-more-grateful-children-1519398748
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“Children who learn gratitude become more sensitive to the feelings of others. As gratitude becomes a way of life, empathy takes root and weeds out selfishness as grateful kids look outside themselves to the wide world beyond.” Read more here: http://www.shelivesfree.com/2014/03/raising-grateful-kids-in-an-entitled-world.html
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Share this practical article (seven things parents can do to raise grateful children) with the parents of your students, after studying gratitude as a class: https://thehumbledhomemaker.com/raise-grateful-kids/
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Need some ideas of ways to walk in gratitude? Check out this blog post:
https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/on-living-a-life-of-gratitude/
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“…a study conducted by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, reveals that cultivating gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25 percent… other studies have shown that kids who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and family.” Read more about why it is important to cultivate gratitude in our children, as well as 11 practical ways to do so, in this article: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrea-reiser/11-tips-for-instilling-true-gratitude-in-your-kids_b_4708019.html
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Here is a very simple-to-prepare object lesson on gratitude. All you need is a box full of old/recyclable items and some imaginative thought! https://www.futureflyingsaucers.com/thankfulness-in-a-box/
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Consider sharing a story (or two!) with your class to help them think about gratitude and thankfulness. These sites offer ideas of books that could be useful:
http://investinginchildren.on.ca/blog/2015/1/14/19-childrens-books-about-gratitude
https://preschoolinspirations.com/books-about-gratitude-thankfulness/
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Find a variety of ideas of ways to teach gratitude, leveled by the children’s ages, here: https://www.today.com/news/get-grateful-20-ways-teach-kids-gratitude-tots-teens-1D80297963
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Gratitude craft idea:
Use recycled jars to create “gratitude jars.” Invite each student to create their own “gratitude jar” label on cardstock. Use packing tape to affix the label to a jar. Fill the jar with gratitude discussion starters on slips of paper (a few examples can be found here: https://creativefamilyfun.net/gratitude-conversation-starters/ or here: https://modernparentsmessykids.com/free-printable-thanksgiving-gratitude-conversation-starters-2/, and your students can write their own on slips of paper). Or send a stack of small sticky-note paper with each student so they can write one thing they’re thankful for each day on a sticky note, fold it together so that the sticky side seals it shut, and add it to the jar. At the end of a month (or a year!), they can open each note to once again be grateful for all of those things!
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Find a few gratitude-themed activities at this page. They are geared to Thanksgiving, but most of them could be used anytime you are teaching about the virtue of gratitude! http://www.dvo.com/newsletter/monthly/2012/november/funtimes.html
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If your students have cell phones with cameras, or if you can round up enough digital cameras, divide the class into a few small groups, give each group a camera, and send them on a gratitude scavenger hunt. This activity (https://lets-get-together.com/2014/10/18/gratitude-photo-scavenger-hunt/) will help each participant to take a moment and realize how much is right around them that they are grateful for! (Note: if you take them outside to do this, round up a few teen or parent volunteers beforehand so that each group has an older supervisor.) You could also give this as a “homework” assignment at the end of a class discussion on gratitude. If you do it this way, invite the students to send you the pictures that they take, and you can compile the pictures into a presentation to share with the class or with your parish!
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With older students, discuss the Akathist of Thanksgiving (https://www.stnicholasdc.org/files/Prayers/Akathist-of-Thanksgiving.pdf). Challenge them each to write a verse of their own.

Incorporating “The Akathist of Thanksgiving” into a Thanksgiving Celebration

As we approach the end of November, Americans are preparing to celebrate “Thanksgiving,” a holiday in which we are encouraged to gather together with loved ones, enjoy food and time together, and be grateful for all that we have been given. Although Thanksgiving is a cultural (secular) holiday, it was begun with a holy intent: to thank God. It is an opportunity for us as Orthodox Christians to do what we should be doing daily, anyway: giving glory and thanks to God for His rich blessings on our lives!

The Akathist of Thanksgiving (http://www.orthodox.net/akathists/akathist-thanksgiving.pdf) is a beautiful prayer, a delight to the soul, and a fitting beginning to praising God at any time of the year. It is especially appropriate to pray this akathist in this season of giving thanks. Readers unfamiliar with the Akathist of Thanksgiving can read more about it here:  https://www.facebook.com/notes/orthodox-christian-parenting/giving-thanks/10151817127259702.

Introduce your students to the Akathist of Thanksgiving with a brief lesson. Before Sunday Church School begins, read through the akathist and plan (keeping in mind your students’ age and reading level) which parts to highlight during your class time. Then, print copies of the akathist (see pdf link above) for each student. During class, tell the students the history of this akathist and give them their copy so they can see it for themselves. Read selections from the akathist together as a class and talk about it together. Have they ever prayed this akathist before? What parts resonate with each student, and why? If you have time in class, invite your students  illustrate their favorite part of the akathist, then post the illustrations in your classroom. Send the students’ copies of the akathist home with them. You could also send the following suggestions along. You may also wish to use these suggestions in your own family’s celebration of Thanksgiving!

Ideas of ways to incorporate the Akathist of Thanksgiving into your Thanksgiving celebration:

  • At evening prayers, read the akathist together as a family. If you have young children, read only one or two stanzas each evening, until you’ve read the whole thing. After the reading, talk about what you have just read. How did you see God’s hand in the ways described, in this day? (ie: kontakion 2 says “…the golden rays of sun and the light clouds are reflected in the water…;” a family member may remind the rest, “Remember as we drove to school this morning, when the sun rays shone down through a cloud, and we saw it reflected in that puddle?!?”)
  • Play the akathist on your CD or mp3 player as you prepare for Thanksgiving Day; whether cooking (if dinner is at your house) or even just getting ready to go (if dinner’s at someone else’s house), this akathist can help your spirit be ready to be truly thankful.
  • On Thanksgiving Day itself, chant or read the akathist together as part of your thanksgiving celebration.

After having read/chanted/heard the akathist:

  • Select one stanza (or even just one kontakion or ikos) that seems particularly appropriate to your family this year. Print out the individual phrases, and work together to make an illustrated booklet. You can work together to draw the pictures; or make a collage of magazine pictures that illustrate the phrases; or even take photos to illustrate them. Illustrate a different stanza every year, and eventually you’ll have the whole akathist and can pray it directly from your own illustrated version; savoring the growth and memories collected while illustrating it!
  • Carefully write or print out beautifully-lettered bookmarks of kontakion 13 (for example: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/the_akathist_of_thanksgiving_kontakion_13.pdf). Use them as Thanksgiving place markers or host gifts, depending if you are hosting or being hosted. Print the kontakion and adhere it to colorful cardstock cut slightly larger than the paper on which the kontakion is printed. Together decorate the edges of each bookmark with crayon/marker, pressed leaves, or seasonally appropriate stamps. On the back of the bookmark, write the name of the person to whom you are giving the bookmark. Laminate the whole thing (contact paper makes a nice laminate), punch a hole in the top, and tie on a bit of ribbon or yarn for the bookmark topper.
  • Use a permanent marker (over scrap paper, in case the marker bleeds through) to write kontakion 13 on a length of wired ribbon. Gently curve and twist the ribbon, careful to keep the words showing, and spread it down the middle of your table or across a mantle as part of your Thanksgiving decor.
  • Select a phrase such as this one from kontakion 1: “I thank Thee for all Thy visible and secret goods, for earthly life and for the heavenly joy of Thy future Kingdom…” Print the phrase at the top of a large sheet of butcher paper. Attach the paper to a door or wall of your home, as a collaborative art piece where family members and guests can add words, cut pictures, or sketches of the “goods,” “earthly life,” or “heavenly joy of [the] future Kingdom” for which they specifically want to thank God.

However we implement this hymn into our Thanksgiving celebration, let us do so with thoughtful awareness of the words and the worshipful intent behind them. We have much for which to be thankful, not the least of which is our Faith. Hymns such as the Akathist of Thanksgiving allow us to join with the voices of saints from years gone by, in worshipping God.

Indeed, “Glory to God for all things!” ~ St. John Chrysostom

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Here are ideas of ways to focus on the meaning of the first few stanzas of the Akathist of Thanksgiving, either with your own family, or with your Sunday Church School students:

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Kontakion 1 of the Akathist of Thanksgiving says, “I was born on earth as a feeble and helpless child, but Thy angel, spreading his shiny wings, has sheltered my cradle. From that moment Thy love shines in all my ways and miraculously guides me into the light of eternity.” Look together at a few baby pictures of each person, and talk about how God’s angels have protected each of you from when you were born until today.

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Kontakion 2 of the Akathist of Thanksgiving says, “All nature mysteriously speaks about Thee, all is filled with Thy mercy and all carries the seal of Thy love.” Go for a hike in a natural space, with this phrase in mind, looking for (and pointing out to each other) the ways in which you see nature speaking about God and showing us His love.

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Ikos 3 of the Akathist of Thanksgiving says, “Glory to Thee Who from the dark depths of the earth bringeth forth so many colors and scents.” Plant flower seeds, or amaryllis bulbs in some “deep dark” earth, and together watch God bring forth colors (and perhaps scents) from that earth, as they bloom!

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Ikos 4 of the Akathist of Thanksgiving says, “When night falls upon the earth, the stillness of sleep reigns and sounds of the past day become silent; I see the splendor of Thy heavenly mansions. Flame and purple, gold and azure presag the indescribable beauty of Thy home…” Encourage everyone to keep an eye on the sky at sunset during this season, and purpose to stop everything each time there’s a beautiful sunset, and then take in the splendor and give glory to God who is creating that beauty right before your very eyes.

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Kontakion 5 of the Akathist of Thanksgiving says, “The tempest of life does not frighten one in whose heart shines the light of Thy divine fire. Around me are whirling storms and roaring winds; terror and darkness surround me; but in my soul is peace and light.” Discuss what this means, to be at peace in the midst of the tempest of life; and why we don’t need to be afraid in terror or darkness. Make night lights for each child’s room featuring an image that reminds the child of God’s presence: perhaps their favorite icon, a beautiful scene, or even just a block of their favorite color. (http://craziestgadgets.com/2008/12/27/create-your-own-night-light-kit/ is one idea of a place to get a kit made specifically for this activity. Or, you can line a mason jar with the printed image, and add a strand of lights as illustrated here: http://www.realsimple.com/home-organizing/home-organizing-new-uses-for-old-things/new-uses-mason-jars/night-light)