A Handful of Orthodox Gift Ideas for Christmas

We have recently come across a variety of wonderful Orthodox books and resources (mostly for children) that would be lovely Christmas gifts. We found them noteworthy enough to gather them into a little collection, so that we could share them with you, in the event that you were not aware of them.

Some of these we have shared before, but are sharing again, in case you missed them the first time. Others are brand new (or new to us, or newly re-published). Our intent is to offer gift suggestions that could double as useful tools in the growth of a young Orthodox Christian’s life. Perhaps you will find one or more of these suggestions helpful as you select gifts for your loved ones.

We know that there are many more ideas than we are able to share here, so we have missed quite a few. What child-friendly, Orthodox-faith related gift ideas do you recommend? If you are (or know!) an artisan who crafts (and sells) beautiful gifts for Orthodox Christian children, please share them below!

Here are a few Orthodox Christmas gift ideas that we encountered:

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Ancient Faith Publishing’s brand new Nativity coloring book, “Beautiful Christmas: an Orthodox Coloring Book for Children” was created with children ages 5-12 in mind. Meagan Elizabeth Gilbert’s 59 lovely illustrations include a mix of both coloring and activity pages. Check it out, and purchase your gift copy(s) here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/beautiful-christmas-an-orthodox-coloring-book-for-children/

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Families with very small children may be interested in this set of Nativity blocks, safe for children to hold and play with. The back of each block contains a verse of a song or prayer from the traditions of the Church, written in language that is young-child friendly. https://store.ancientfaith.com/little-saints-nativity-playset-a/

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This learning cube transforms from one icon-style image to another, and each image includes a shortened version of the Nativity story. https://store.ancientfaith.com/orthodox-learning-cube-the-nativity/

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Four-year-old Anthony will teach anyone who reads this book how to handle the challenges that come their way, with grace, and with God’s help. https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/06/12/gleanings-from-a-book-anthony-the-great-by-john-sarantakis-illustrated-by-misha-pjawka/

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Young children will resonate with Philo in this book, or any of the other books featuring his adventures with the SuperHolies! https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/07/10/gleanings-from-a-book-philo-and-the-faithfulness-superholy-by-mireille-mishriky-illustrated-by-s-violette-palumbo/

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As they read this book, elementary-aged children will be drawn right into young Spyros’ life as he learns from St. Spyridon – without even knowing he’s interacting with a saint! https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/05/08/gleanings-from-a-book-spyridons-shoes-by-christine-rogers/

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Teens and adults will benefit from the wisdom and example of St. Anthony, as shared in this graphic novel: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/05/29/gleanings-from-a-book-a-forest-in-the-desert-the-life-of-st-john-the-short-by-creative-orthodox/

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Late elementary-aged children and adults alike will learn from the life of St. Eustathios in the engagingly-written and beautifully illustrated graphic novel, “The Cross and the Stag,” which we wrote about here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/08/28/gleanings-from-a-book-the-cross-and-the-stag-by-gabriel-wilson/

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Author and illustrator Grace Brooks has done it again! She has written yet another mesmerizing book about an Orthodox girl facing real-life problems and choosing to solve them with the help of her priest and the friends from her parish who are part of the “Every Tuesday Club”. The girls in this club are aging as time goes by between the publishing dates of Ms. Brooks’ books, which is a beautiful way for the series’ fans to have age-appropriate books along the way. “Xenia the Warm-Hearted” follows 14-year-old Xenia as she tries to improve the way that she interacts with others, even without the use of internet on her phone (a privilege she lost when she was online, gaming outside of her family’s rules). This book is appropriate for early teens (or older), and contains its fair share of age-appropriate struggles in the context of some mystery and suspense. Purchase your copy here: https://www.amazon.com/Xenia-Warm-hearted-Every-Tuesday-Club/dp/1698351038

Here are a few quotes (and a teaser!) from the book, to give you a taste:

“Xenia regarded him woefully. ‘I wanted to make such a change, but I’m having trouble figuring this out. I mean, it’s good to want to be a better person. But I still don’t understand people very much and… I don’t always seem to like them. I did all this research, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.’ …[Father Andrew answered,] ‘I think that this isn’t something that you can research by just reading about it — not even by reading the lives of the saints, though that’s an excellent place to start. You’re not going to get anywhere with a list or a guide that tells you what to do and what not to do. I can’t say enough good things about prayer, but even that is just a start.’ Father smiled at her kindly. ‘You may have to find out by doing.’” (p. 117)

“Her eyes had drifted out the window as she spoke, where the gusting wind was blowing a pillowcase on the clothesline. Energy encounters matter. Mobility and immobility. Wind resistance, oscillation, flexibility. ‘It’s very beautiful,’ she finished dreamily. ‘Not to me,’ he [Charlie] sniped, bringing her back to reality. ‘If there is a God, then why is the world such a mess?’ Xenia was used to this question as well. ‘Because there’s evil in it, too. And sometimes we are — all of us are — carriers of that, like a mosquito carries a disease. But that’s not how it was supposed to be…’” (p. 293)

“…and that’s how they found them: two frightened young people huddled together in a ruined living room with broken glass and squirting pipes. That was the sight that greeted Mr. Murphy and Jake when they pulled up a minute later, in the mistaken belief that they were coming to the rescue…” (p. 415)

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Readers who are fans of fantasy and/or symbolism will thoroughly enjoy “The Dome Singer of Falenda” by Katherine Hyde. It has been a really long time since we read such a delightful fantasy. Originally published in 2016, and just re-published, this book filled with music and beauty, fraught with gripping adventure, and causes the reader to re-think the power of their thoughts. Themes include the power of familial love, the importance of discerning (and valuing) good over evil, and the importance of focus. The protagonist is a boy of 13, and his Falendian sidekick is a girl of 14. People of a variety of ages and genders will be entranced by their journey and uplifted by this beautiful read. Find your copy here:

https://www.amazon.com/Dome-Singer-Falenda-Katherine-Bolger-Hyde/dp/1732087326/

Here are a few quotes from the book, to give you a taste of it:

“Anyway, I’d read enough books to know that when it comes to adventures, the only way out is through.” (p. 23)

“I gasped for air. ‘What—me? You’re having me on. I’m no deliverer. I’m not brave, or strong, or clever. All I know how to do is sing.’ ‘But singing is precisely what is required. That is how we will break the Dome—by singing. The elúndina chose you for your gifts of singing and thought-speech. And also, of course, because you are your mother’s son.’” (p. 36)

“I’d been thinking of nothing in particular, but as soon as I tried to wipe my mind clear of thoughts, it filled with a whole crowd of questions…This wouldn’t do. I shook my head and tried to focus on my surroundings. I peered at the rough, ridged texture of the malacána bark, listened to the clear, musical cry of a bird, inhaled the sharp, fresh smell of the trees, like cedar mixed with peppermint and cinnamon. I felt the chafing of Vali’s thick, soft coat beneath my legs, the still, cooling air against my cheeks. When was the last time I’d stopped to pay attention to things like that? At home I was either buried in memories or planning how to cope with the next calamity. I’d forgotten how to just be.” (pp. 57-58)

“The Tower had no windows or doors that I could see, but at the center of the side facing us the ranks of guards angled outward. The door must be hidden there. It looked like my mother was right: it was impossible. The din in my head took on a new undertone: ‘You have failed, you must fly. You have failed, you must fly.’ Maybe the bad guys really were going to win. Meli’s thought-voice broke through. ‘I hear it too, Danny. But you must resist these thoughts. You must shout them down with truth. Everything that babble says is a lie, for lies are all the Enemy knows. We have not failed until we give up, and we must not give up.’ ‘I don’t want to give up. But how can we succeed? How could we ever get in there to rescue your parents, or get to the top from outside? I’m afraid I left my Spiderman gear at home.’ Meli ignored that. ‘Our parents did it seven years ago. Somehow they reached the top.’ And now they were inside.” (p. 149)

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Homemakers in your family may enjoy this read! “Searching for the Sacred” by Lois Clymer is a book filled with the memories and musings of an Orthodox Christian wife and mother. It tells the story of her (and her husband‘s) dream for a little homestead, and how they have realized that dream in a variety of locations, over the years. Anecdotes include adventures that they’ve had with their family, and a variety of things that she has learned along the way. In addition to living on a homestead and growing much of their own food, Mrs. Clymer addresses other experiences they’ve had, including some experiences in the world of politics; finding ways to enjoy small homesteads away from home; her foray into owning and operating a CSA; and adventures and lessons learned while building two tiny houses. Throughout the book, readers will find encouragement to search for God in the world that He has created. Pick up a copy here: https://www.westbowpress.com/en/bookstore/bookdetails/778125-searching-for-the-sacred

Here are a few of our favorite quotes, a handful of Lois’ learnings, that she shares in the book, scattered amidst the stories from her life:

“Hard work is the secret to success. I soon found that it helped to be organized and to prioritize. When I did the most important thing first in the day, the rest of the day flowed more smoothly…” (p. 4)

“Most of us find that life doesn’t always go the way we wanted it to. What do we do when pain and disappointments and grief enter our lives? As a young person, I struggled with how to be happy… I came across some wise counsel regarding happiness. If I am unhappy… it is not because of my environment, but because of the way I am evaluating my environment.” (p. 14)

“I have certainly not always been perfect, and I have held on to bitterness from time to time. But I have noticed that when I can release that bitterness and let it go completely, something good happens in my body. My creativity and my joy returns. The antidote to the poison of bitterness is forgiveness and gratefulness.” (p. 23)

“Most of us don’t know much about simplicity. We have more possessions than we know what to do with. One time I heard a motivational speaker say that every possession you have uses up valuable brain space. You think about it, you catalog it, you think about cleaning and repairing it, you organize it. To lighten your brain load, think about how to live with only half of the possessions you have and then DO IT.” (p. 81)

“Wherever you live, maybe this book will motivate you to enjoy some of the simple pleasures in life: grow a plant or vegetable, take a walk through a woods, or enjoy the antics of a chicken or a goat.” (p. 86)

A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Chapter 8

Note: This series of blog posts will offer ideas of how to build up the little church in your home. The series will take a closer look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker. Each week we will take a look at one portion of the book and focus on the wisdom and ideas offered there. Find an overview of the entire book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/gleanings-from-a-book-blueprints-for-the-little-church-creating-an-orthodox-home-by-elissa-bjeletich-and-caleb-shoemaker/

We thank Elissa Bjeletich, Caleb Shoemaker, and Ancient Faith Publishing for granting us permission to share the book with you in this way. Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints

Chapter 8: Raising Good Stewards

The eighth chapter of “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” focuses on stewardship. The Church teaches us that fasting, prayers, and giving alms are key elements in our growth in holiness. So often we focus more on the fasting and the prayers, and almsgiving is almost an aside. In this materialistic day and age, it is imperative that we intentionally give alms, not just throwing a few quarters in the offering basket, but truly giving alms in a way that is selfless.

The chapter encourages its readers to focus on where (from Whom) all of our gifts and resources have come. It goes on to challenge each reader to re-order their values by choosing to value their Faith and other people around them over their possessions (perhaps better called “the worldy goods that will otherwise possess them”). It encourages readers to give of themselves and their gifts as well as giving their money and possessions. The authors offer practical suggestions of how to do each, sharing other families’ experiences with stewardship along the way.

Both this chapter and its message fly in the face of the prevailing culture around us. But giving generously is a key building block of the little church which we must not omit. May we learn to give more generously, and with great joy. For, “through the cheap price of doing good to men, we can acquire the priceless Kingdom of God.” ~ Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow.

Do you have a family stewardship question for the “Blueprints For the Little Church” authors? Connect with Elissa here: https://elissabjeletich.com/contact/ and email Caleb at caleb.shoemaker@gmail.com.

Here are a few gleanings from chapter 8:

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“Everywhere we turn, we see proclamations that our lives would be in a sorry state indeed without expensive clothes, gadgets, and skin care projects. No matter where we go to escape the siren song of stuff, we are met with greater and greater temptation to embrace discontent; we don’t gratefully embrace the blessings we have, but instead we yearn for more, more, more.” (p. 146, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“With greed apparently hardwired into our psyche, how can the little church hope to stand against the rising tide? …Just a quick glance over the Fathers and Holy Scripture will make it clear to even a casual reader that the way we use our resources is essential to a healthy spiritual life.” (pp. 146-147, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Throughout Sacred Tradition, the faithful have always turned from themselves to God when they struggle with the temptation to greed and avarice. The first step toward building a strong little church is placing Christ as the cornerstone.” (p. 149, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“We cannot be free of our possessions so long as they continue to hold preeminence in our minds. As St. Thalassios said, ‘It is not difficult to get rid of material things if you so desire; but only with great effort will you be able to get rid of thoughts about them.’”(p. 151, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“The question to ask yourself and your family is not how much you can afford, but in what ways you can give to God’s work of your time, treasure, and talents.” (p. 154, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“The act of almsgiving is as important as how you fast or how long you say your prayers. These three are interconnected in a mystical way that vivifies the rest of the building project.” (p. 158, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“The only limit to almsgiving is your imagination. The important part is realizing that we are giving back to God out of our love what He has so graciously given to us out of His own love for us.” (p. 158, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Chapter 7

Note: This series of blog posts will offer ideas of how to build up the little church in your home. The series will take a closer look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker. Each week we will take a look at one portion of the book and focus on the wisdom and ideas offered there. Find an overview of the entire book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/gleanings-from-a-book-blueprints-for-the-little-church-creating-an-orthodox-home-by-elissa-bjeletich-and-caleb-shoemaker/

We thank Elissa Bjeletich, Caleb Shoemaker, and Ancient Faith Publishing for granting us permission to share the book with you in this way. Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints

 

Chapter 7: Fasting as a Family

Chapter 7 takes a closer look at what it means to fast together as a family. The chapter begins by discussing what fasting is; why we fast; and what fasting is NOT. It goes on to talk about how fasting works, and how beautiful it is that the Church encourages us all to fast together in preparation for big celebrations by placing fasts into our calendar throughout the Church year.

Although fasting can seem very regimented and somewhat severe, the authors repeatedly remind their readers to be merciful to themselves and to their family, especially during fasting periods. The chapter offers a section on dietary restrictions and ideas of how to fast while facing such a struggle. A significant section of the chapter is dedicated to ideas of how to lead children in fasting.

The chapter contains a section that addresses other forms of fasting (beyond the “great fasts” of the Church year). Readers are encouraged to fast from more than just food; and especially to fast from bad attitudes while fasting. As always, there is input – including ideas – from a variety of families throughout the chapter.

This chapter concludes with a heavy dose of mercy. “When (not if) you fall, do not waste any time beating yourself up about it, but simply do your metanoia… and begin again. This is how we practice repentance and humility.” (p. 143) Readers will step away from this chapter challenged to fast with their family to the best of their ability; but also reassured that grace and mercy reigns for when (not if) they fail.

 

Do you have a question for the “Blueprints For the Little Church” authors? Connect with Elissa here: https://elissabjeletich.com/contact/ and email Caleb at caleb.shoemaker@gmail.com.

Here are a few gleanings from chapter 7:

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“Christ does not say ‘if you fast’ but ‘when you fast,’ because fasting is as central to the Christian life as prayer.” (p. 118, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“The Church upon the ‘bright threshold of the Fast’ looks forward with eagerness, and yet we frequently speak of fasting as if it were a dreaded burden… Often, because we are overly focused on the food, we fail to see that fasting is a beautiful and joyful opportunity and to treat it with the eagerness it deserves.” (p. 118, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“We human beings are easily distracted—easily caught up in the pleasures of the world—so we learn to take breaks… The Holy Church sets aside some time for fasting, for holding back from the pleasures of food and worldly entertainments, so that we can focus on God, and then balances fasting with periods of feasting. By striking this balance, we come to find more joy in the bounty He provides us.” (p. 119, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Fasting from foods is only an effective spiritual tool when we combine it with prayer, almsgiving, and fasting from sin.When we practice humility, gentleness, and love, we are defeating the other passions that keep us from God. A true faster will not only abstain from food but will fill his or her days with almsgiving and charitable acts, with study of the Scriptures, and, most importantly, with an intensified effort at prayer.” (p. 121, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Our fast must be a love offering, an effort to soften and prepare the heart so that prayers are more powerful and God’s presence is more palpable—so we have to find a way to lead our children to make a good and intentional fast. Forcing them to fast does not create a freewill offering, and yet as is true of most parenting, we must sometimes make our children do what is good for them… They may not want to do it, but we must find a  way to lovingly teach them to do it so that they learn.” (p. 131, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“As parents, we must take the time to explain fasting to our children, but our example will be far more important than our words… If we say that the fast is a joyful love offering, and then we fast in misery, overly focused on the food we’re serving, our children see it.” (p. 132, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“There is a common beloved maxim about fasting: What comes out of our mouths is more important than what goes into our mouths. This is very true; we aren’t going to become holier by denying ourselves meat but screaming at our children… Be merciful at all times, and don’t let irritability get the best of you. Be merciful to your children and to yourself. Fasting is hard. It’s supposed to be hard.” (p. 136, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“When (we do not say if) we fall, we do not give up, but instead, we get up again. We fall, we get up. Over and over again. There may be nights when, out of exhaustion, we feed our families an easy but completely non-fasting meal. Say a prayer, thank God for this food, and ask Him to help you do better. Don’t give up; just get back up and keep working at it.” (p. 142, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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A Handful of New Resources for Nativity Lent

Nativity Lent is almost upon us! Very soon we will enter this season designed by the Church to help us prepare our hearts and our homes for the birth of our Lord. The Nativity fast offers us the opportunity to attend services more frequently. We are encouraged to pray, to fast, and to give alms. Those of us with children in our care may find it helpful to have a few resources to help us prepare their hearts as well. A few such resources recently caught our attention, so we are sharing them in the event that you have not yet encountered them, and will find them helpful as you prepare your hearts for the Nativity of our Lord.

These blog posts of ideas from years gone by may also be helpful to you:
https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2013/11/13/preparing-for-the-nativity/, https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/11/11/on-preparing-our-hearts-anticipating-the-birth-of-christ-each-day-of-the-nativity-fast/, and https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/12/16/ideas-for-keeping-our-focus-on-the-nativity-of-christ/

 

Check out these resources for the Nativity Lent:

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The folks at Orthodox Pebbles have pulled their Nativity resources (including resources related to the Nativity Fast, such as St. Nicholas Day) together in this collection: https://orthodoxpebbles.com/2018/12/18/the-nativity-of-christ-our-full-resource-collection/

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Color Your Way Through The Nativity Fast

Fans of Sparks for Orthodox Kids, rejoice! Illustrator Casey Newman has created a coloring book for very young Orthodox Christians to utilize throughout the Nativity Fast. “Color Your Way Through the Nativity Fast” begins on November 15 and offers a variety of coloring pages, nearly one per day, all the way through Theophany. Its 60 pages are mostly illustrations, many of them featuring a saint of the day or something related to the Nativity. The saints pages also have a brief story about the saint being featured, and often include some information about how the saint’s clothing is colored in the icons, and why it is that color. There are a few pages of word art, featuring prayers or songs. Children can cut out the last few pages of this 60-page book, for they are intended to be made into Christmas cards! Purchase your copy of the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Color-Your-Through-Nativity-Fast/dp/1698389531/

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If you would like a small coloring book to tuck into your purse or backpack, check out this 5”x8” 30-page mini Nativity Fast coloring book! Each page features an icon, a prayer, or a song for a young child to color. A few pages are even included at the end of the book, which could be removed for use as Christmas cards! Purchase your mini-book here: https://www.amazon.com/Color-Your-Through-Nativity-Mini/dp/1698864515/

(If you’re not familiar with Sparks for Orthodox Kids, check out their website here: https://sites.google.com/view/sparks-for-orthodox-kids/home.. Their homepage says, “Church can be so serious, we want to make sure there are fun things for the kids to help foster positive attitudes for God, Church, and prayer.” At their site you will find some craft ideas and a lot of coloring pages, grouped by month, in the form of reproducible line art icons. These coloring pages can be printed and will enhance young children’s learning about/participating in the life of the Church. Follow “Sparks” on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.)

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Ancient Faith Publishing recently published a lovely coloring book for the Nativity season. “Beautiful Christmas: an Orthodox Coloring Book for Children”, created for children ages 5-12, is illustrated by Meagan Elizabeth Gilbert. The book contains 59 beautiful coloring and activity pages with themes related to the Nativity fast (including St. Lucia and St. Nicholas) and many pages dedicated to the Nativity of Our Lord. If a child were to color one page a day, this book will last through the entire fast as well as all twelve days of Christmas, with a few pages to spare! Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/beautiful-christmas-an-orthodox-coloring-book-for-children/

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Draw Near Designs has just released a beautifully decorated felt Nativity Lent calendar. The calendar has 40 numbered pockets, and comes with a felt star that can be moved from pocket to pocket each day of the Nativity fast. (They offer 7 other suggestions of things that could also be put into the pockets – ideas such as including a scripture verse for each day, or an act of kindness to perform that day.) Read more about the beautiful calendar here: https://www.drawneardesigns.com/blog/2019/9/30/advent-calendar-ideas
Order your own pocket calendar, either small or large, here: https://www.drawneardesigns.com/shop/advent-calendar-sew-it-yourself-kit

 

(Note: the large pocket calendars are large enough to hold the ornaments that go with Elissa Bjeletich’s beautiful Nativity Lent book, “Welcoming the Christ Child”, which we wrote about here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/08/16/gleanings-from-a-book-welcoming-the-christ-child-family-readings-for-the-nativity-lent-by-elissa-bjeletich/
Those ornaments and book are available together, here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/welcoming-the-christ-child-gift-set/)

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Ancient Faith’s podcast “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts” will be offering episodes related to the Nativity fast and stories of some of the saints commemorated during the fast. Give it a listen here: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/tendingthegarden

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To keep your Nativity fast focused on Christ, adults and/or families with older children may find these weekly studies helpful. Each week’s study follows the Church’s liturgical readings and offers ideas of ways to live the Faith during the busy Nativity season. http://stgeorgegreenville.org/our-faith/advent

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A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Chapter 6

Note: This series of blog posts will offer ideas of how to build up the little church in your home. The series will take a closer look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker. Each week we will take a look at one portion of the book and focus on the wisdom and ideas offered there. Find an overview of the entire book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/gleanings-from-a-book-blueprints-for-the-little-church-creating-an-orthodox-home-by-elissa-bjeletich-and-caleb-shoemaker/

We thank Elissa Bjeletich, Caleb Shoemaker, and Ancient Faith Publishing for granting us permission to share the book with you in this way. Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints

Chapter 6: Finding a Prayer Rule

The sixth chapter of “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” focuses on the family prayer rule. Bjeletich and Shoemaker offer their readers an insight which may be a new one: the word that has been translated “rule” from the Greek is related to the word “canon”, which means “guideline”. They suggest that readers consider their family’s prayer rule as a guideline.

The authors encourage families to begin establishing a family prayer rule by praying the Lord’s Prayer, adding the Trisagion prayers when they’re able, and then slowly building from there. They list typical prayers to consider adding along the way. They cite examples from their own families’ prayer rules.

The chapter urges its readers to add intercessions into to their family prayer times. The authors suggest ways to include children in intercessory prayer by inspiring children to add their friends to the prayer list and by suggesting ways that children of various ages can participate in intercessory prayer times.

The chapter closes with an admonishment to practice the family prayer rule together in such a way that builds longing for God in the heart of each family member.

 

Do you have a prayer rule question for the “Blueprints For the Little Church” authors? Connect with Elissa here: https://elissabjeletich.com/contact/ and email Caleb at caleb.shoemaker@gmail.com.

Here are a few gleanings from chapter 6:

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“…a prayer rule, in its most simple definition, consists of those prayers we try to say each day when we say our prayers. For each Orthodox person, the guidelines will be a little different… The goal of prayer in the Orthodox life is the breath of the Spirit.” (p. 104, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Some families will begin with the Trisagion Prayers as the foundation of their prayer rule and allow it to grow from there. Regardless of what form your prayer rule takes, this is a good starting point.” (p. 106, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Before expecting your children to fall in line without hesitation, make sure personal prayer is a part of your daily discipline… it is vital to the success of your family’s prayer rule that the parents are making the effort to pray daily, no matter how briefly… Parents are the workmen who are building the little church, and the children will take their religious cues from them.” (pp. 106-107, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Making intercessions a regular part of your personal and family prayer rule is a powerful way to connect your family to those who are suffering, sick, alone, or departed.” (p. 111, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Once children are old enough to read, it is a good idea to get them their own copies of the prayer books you’re using. You could buy several copies, or you might consider printing up your family’s customized prayer rule.” (p. 112, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“‘Teaching them to say prayers is easy, teaching them to pray is harder. Look out for life situations that lend themselves to teaching about different types of prayer—thanksgiving, suppliation, asking forgiveness.’ —David, father of seven ”(p. 114, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Chapter 5

Note: This series of blog posts will offer ideas of how to build up the little church in your home. The series will take a closer look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker. Each week we will take a look at one portion of the book and focus on the wisdom and ideas offered there. Find an overview of the entire book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/gleanings-from-a-book-blueprints-for-the-little-church-creating-an-orthodox-home-by-elissa-bjeletich-and-caleb-shoemaker/

We thank Elissa Bjeletich, Caleb Shoemaker, and Ancient Faith Publishing for granting us permission to share the book with you in this way. Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints

Chapter 5: Developing Your Rhythm

All Christians must find time to pray, and the “Little Church” benefits greatly from praying together. The fifth chapter of “Blueprints for the Little Church” focuses on encouraging families to be intentional in planning time for prayer in their family schedule. Authors Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker advocate that their readers to look closely at their most precious commodity: at their time. They urge parents to consider how to budget their family’s schedule in such a way that prayer is not a “tacked on” extra, but is actually a significant part of the daily routine.

The chapter doesn’t just encourage its readers to find time for prayer: it also reminds the reader how important prayer is, and how valuable it is for parents to teach their children to pray by praying with them. The authors suggest a few basic prayer times, and offer several sample schedules. But they recognize that even the best-laid schedule cannot be adhered to at all times. They recommend that for such times, families be prepared to do what they can to stick to the rhythm of prayer they’ve set up for their household, but when they can’t do that, well, then they need to give themselves some grace. (And pick up and continue the rhythm as soon as possible.)

The main thrust of this chapter is that “Little Churches” must pray together. Family prayer times will not happen unless they are intentionally planned and carried out. This chapter offers its readers a push in the direction of making that planning happen.

 

Do you have a question for the “Blueprints For the Little Church” authors? Connect with Elissa here: https://elissabjeletich.com/contact/ and email Caleb at caleb.shoemaker@gmail.com.

Here are a few gleanings from chapter 5:

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“Making time for prayer can be one of the greatest struggles for families. There are so many other activities pulling and fighting for our attention that adding one more thing can be overwhelming. Between sports practice, weekly church service, full-time jobs, driver’s ed, and ballet class, it can be hard enough for a family to eat a meal together, let alone say a full prayer rule.” (p. 92, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“The Church in her wisdom offers us a healthy rhythm that leads us to a wholesome and good routine. Instead of the frantic pace of a family spinning out of control, the Church provides an intentional, peaceful rhythm that is firmly grounded in prayer and love.” (p. 93, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Just as we work out our financial budgets, we must budget our most precious commodity, time. Take some time… to go over your weekly time budget… Identify those gaps of time each day when everyone is usually present (barring unforeseen events) and establish those few minutes for family prayer.” (pp. 94-95, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Find the rhythm that works for you. Your house is an extension of the parish and a microcosm of Christ’s Church. Learn to celebrate this and make your home a place where prayer, silence, work, and sacred fellowship are the norm rather than the occasional treat.” (p. 96, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Family prayer is essential, and it should be prioritized— but the timing will vary for each family. It is best if families work out their own rhythm, so long as the critical elements of family prayer and study are always included.” (p. 101, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

What about those times when you just can’t do it? Naturally, there is no need to be legalistic about these rhythms, and when extraordinary circumstances arise, the rhythm should be flexible… The important thing is to make room for prayers in your routine.” (p. 102, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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Gleanings from a Book: “Of Such is the Kingdom: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard

Summer Kinard offers a great gift to the Church in her book “Of Such is the Kingdom: A Practical Theology of Disability”. Kinard teaches from experience with disability: she herself has neurological differences, and she has children with disabilities. By virtue of her own personal struggles, the insights, wisdom, and encouragement which she shares in this book are true and tested, and heavily seasoned with the love of Christ. This book encourages its readers to extend much grace to those around them whose struggle includes a disability.

“Of Such is the Kingdom” is a beautiful blend of theology drawn from the Scriptures and the Church Fathers; descriptive explanation; and practical suggestions for the Church as a whole. Whether or not the reader’s immediate family is experiencing a disability, this book will be helpful. After all, the Church is our Family, and our Family is definitely experiencing disability. The most Christ-like way we can approach our Family is by doing all that we can to learn about, support, help, and love every member therein. Kinard offers insights that will help the Church to do so, one member at a time.

The book begins with an insightful introduction, and continues in four sections: God’s Time Reveals (Kairos), Becoming Like God in Weakness (Theosis), Self-Emptying Disables the Disability (Kenosis), and The Iconic Community (Koinonia). Readers will have the opportunity to look at the theology of disability with the perspective of God’s time; consider how disability helps to bring us closer to God; begin to learn ways in which parishes and parishioners can better embrace and include their brothers and sisters experiencing disabilities; explore ways in which people with disabilities can serve the Church; and be challenged to better care for those who are experiencing disabilities. Each chapter concludes with a bulleted summary that helps the reader to better solidify their learning, and thought-inducing questions. (These questions will also be helpful for group discussions of the book.) The conclusion is simultaneously challenging and encouraging.

In one of her thought-provoking questions on page 72, Kinard offers a beautiful glimpse at what this book is about: “We are all in this body of Christ together, and people with disabilities, along with those without disabilities, have a common goal of becoming like Christ. The focus shifts from what we are able to do alone to how we can help the whole body work together.” It is not always easy to know how to work together, given all of the differences in the body of Christ, but reading this book – and taking action on the insights it offers – is an excellent place to start.

It is my hope that clergy, parents, teachers, Sunday Church school teachers—in truth, all Orthodox Christians—will read this book, and extend the kindness and grace it inspires. Imagine what the Church will look like when we do this! It will look like heaven on earth, as it is meant to look, extending the love of Christ to every person. May God help us to do so, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Summer Kinard’s website features her blog and a myriad of resources for parents and church school or homeschool teachers. https://summerkinard.com/

Purchase your own copy  of the book here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/new-book-releases/

 

Here are a few gleanings from the book:

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“When we learn how to welcome everyone into the Orthodox Church, with the help of our Tradition, one another, and the practical exercises and resources in this book and the accompanying website, we will learn to live with the humility of children whom God welcomes—not as embarrassments, but as His own beloved creation.” (p. 14, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

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“When we make adaptations for Orthodox Christians to come to church, we are not only making room for them to get in the door—which is an important first step!—but we must adapt our welcome with the aim of sharing the full joy of the Lord. All of us will experience the full joy of God‘s presence when these very bodies are transformed in the resurrection. If we can make room and bend a little toward bearing one another’s burdens, we will adapt now for resurrection joy in the Lord. We will experience the joy of the Lord in foretaste as we welcome people with disabled bodies into the full life of the Body of Christ, the Church.” (pp. 31-32, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

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“This view of disability as a call to holiness in God’s time is the reason the question we Orthodox ask is not, ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’ but, ‘How is this disability for our salvation, and not only the salvation of each person, but also the whole Body of Christ?’” (p. 43, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

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“The healing work of God is to knit each member of the Body of Christ together in the Church. Whether or not healing occurs in our bodies, the healing of the one Body of Christ, the Church, comes when each person is welcomed fully into the Body as a member.”(pp. 82-83, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

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“Every person will pay attention to feelings first, sight second, and thinking third. Once all of these three preliminary types of attention are in place, the highest level of attention, joint attention, can take place. After we look more closely at these four levels of attention, we will see that they parallel the four levels of reading Scripture that Orthodox Christians have practiced in the Church since the beginning.” (p. 116, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

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“Church buildings are microcosms of salvation history, where space is arranged so that we can know ourselves as having a place in the mercy of God. Like our churches, our classrooms and teaching patterns can reflect the pattern of God as a place where God‘s mercy makes us at home. This sense of church as home is open to families with disabilities, too, because God in His mercy became human so that we all might know Him through all of our senses.” (p. 134, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

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“It is one thing to tell a child to make his cross because he is supposed to do so. It is quite another to tell him that when he makes his cross, demons run away like cowards and spiritual brightness like lightning shines forth from his face to frighten away evil. Yet this is the truth that our Holy Tradition has handed down to us. We make the sign of the cross to repel evil and to shine forth the light of God, who conquered death by death, reminding ourselves and every spiritual entity that Christ is risen and has conquered evil.

A child with disabilities might not be able to sing the Pascal hymn with everyone, but he might be able to make the sign of the cross by himself or with assistance. Teach him what it means, and it will become a prayer with great meaning for him. Even if he does not understand, the prayer is still powerful.” (pp. 161-162, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

***

“The communication of needs and offers to serve might start small, with checkboxes to volunteer on a stewardship form, cards in an offering plate stating that a meal train would help a family in crisis this week, and an email address and phone number (that definitely will be answered) for pastoral or educational needs. The habit of communicating and connecting people with disabilities with the fullness of the community will grow from there.” (p. 191, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

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“Many persons with disabilities are what we might call “concrete thinkers.” That is, they tend to focus on the meaning of things that corresponds to real, lived experience. Though, as we saw in the earlier chapters on attention, everyone actually learns best with concrete anchors and ideas, teaching with concrete, tangible, or demonstrable examples is especially important to concrete thinkers.” (p. 201, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

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“It is my position that we need to show hospitality to everyone who comes through the doors of the Church and not only be Christ to them but also to receive Christ through them. A parish community is not fulfilling the mandate to serve others if it cannot welcome and find a place for those whose abilities may be different than our own. We rob ourselves of the blessing we receive from them.” (Fr. Christopher Foley, as quoted on p. 218, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

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“The Church is an iconic community because we look like God when we love one another and humbly make room for all members of the Body in our worship, learning, service, and fellowship. As we imitate Christ in love and humility, we are ‘being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another’ (2 Corinthians 3:18), and this likeness applies to every member. When every member is included, the Body of Christ starts to look like God.”(pp. 225-226, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

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“When Jesus describes the last judgment in Matthew 25, He says that feeding the hungry is like feeding Him. We should apply that lesson to the way we welcome families with food allergies, too.” (p. 256, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

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“The works of God are made manifest in us when we as a community imitate the Savior’s love and humility in making space, teaching so that everyone can learn, practicing prayers that all can pray, ministering to one another, and welcoming one another into fellowship as we welcome Christ.” (p. 262, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

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