Gleanings from a Book: “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood

Have you ever wondered what it was like to be an Orthodox Christian in the plains of the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s? “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” offers a glimpse of the life of this immigrant who lived a faithful Orthodox Christian life in the American plains before there were churches available in the region. It follows Fr. Nicola through his immigration, his adjustment to life on the plains, his ordination, his intense years of service as a missionary priest, all the way to his departing from this life. American Orthodox Christians – especially those in the Antiochian Archdiocese – will do well to read this book, to expand their knowledge of the history of Orthodox Christianity in the United States.

Readers who have marveled at the experiences of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books will see some parallels in “Apostle to the Plains.” The Yanneys also lived in a sod house for a period of time while they were homesteading. Although the Ingalls family’s experiences preceded the Yanneys’ by some 20 years, and happened largely in different states, both families suffered illnesses and loss. There were times when each family struggled to attend school or church (because there was none, or it was far away). And despite their hard times, both families endeavored to do what was right and persevered with dogged determination.

A large portion of “Apostle to the Plains” is dedicated to recounting the missionary journeys and busy life of Fr. Nicola’s years as a traveling priest, and at points these chapters feel a bit overwhelming. Even with today’s technology and travel infrastructure, his months of travel and the few weeks at home in between trips would exhaust anyone. But when the reader remembers that his travels happened more than a century ago, with much slower communication and more tedious means of transportation, what he accomplished is truly astounding. Fr. Nicola and his family clearly loved God and took their calling to be a priest (and the priest’s family) very seriously, and they embraced the reality of what that entailed.

Fr. Nicola’s life was far from easy: he left his home in Lebanon at age 19, with his brand-new bride (whom he barely knew) shortly after their wedding and moved to far away Nebraska, where they had to adjust to new language and culture, different weather, and near isolation from family; and where there was no Orthodox Church. The book goes on to share their trials in homesteading, the joys of births and occasional clergy visits, the sorrows of losses and deaths in the family. When Fr. Nicola was ordained to the priesthood, he not only was in charge of the parish in their hometown of Kearney Nebraska, but he was also charged with being the missionary priest who visited Orthodox Christians all over the American plains.

A large section of the book follows Fr. Nicola’s travels. When he traveled, Fr. would hear people’s confessions, commune them, baptize those in need of baptism, marry young couples, and do all the priestly things for the Orthodox Christians who were scattered about the many parts of the plains of the United States. He always tried to be home again with his boys for Christmas and for Pascha (and often for all of Great Lent), but his travels kept him away from them and his home parish for months at a time every year. It was not an easy life for him or for his family, nor did it provide enough financial income.

Fr. Nicola was generous to a fault. Throughout his life, he raised money to share with others back home in Lebanon, and to fund local causes. He and the family generously hosted guests for Sunday luncheons. He traveled extensively, at great cost to himself and his family – and his being away from home made him unable to work and thus make additional income. So he and the family had very little financially. In fact, they had so little that even with re-mortgaging their home multiple times, he was unable to pay $140 in damages from a lawsuit that had been brought against him and his parish! Fr. Nicola gave and gave and gave of both his money and his time, and had very little on earth to show for his generosity.

Readers may be surprised to find that this book offers a glimpse into the life of St. Raphael of Brooklyn as well. The saintly bishop ordained Fr. Nicola, and Fr. Nicola was under his jurisdiction for the rest of Bishop Raphael’s life. Fr. Nicola supported, honored, and admired Bishop Raphael and was justifiably sad when he departed this life. The saint’s passing not only removed him from his position overseeing the Syrian Orthodox churches in America, it also brought great division to those churches. “Apostle to the Plains” explains this division in a way that helps modern American Orthodox Christians to learn more about some of the struggles in the history of our Church.

Fr. Nicola continued to care for his flock right up to the very end of his life. He visited and cared for his Spanish-flu-suffering parishioners in his hometown of Kearney just hours before his collapse and death from that same illness. His sudden passing was a shock to his parishioners, the entire Kearney community, and the Orthodox Christians across the plains whom he had served so diligently.

The Afterword of the book, titled “The Legacy of Father Nicola” is a powerful ending, as it helps the reader to ponder how well the servant of God Nicola Yanney ran his race. It encourages the reader to look beyond Fr. Nicola (and the entire Yanney family)’s struggles, to see the victories, and especially to note his faithfulness. Reading this after having read the book’s account of his life, the reader cannot help but be encouraged in their own life to “know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings… [that they] may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (from Phil. 3:10-11)

May Fr. Nicola Yanney’s memory be eternal!

You can purchase “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” as a paperback or an ebook here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/apostle-to-the-plains-the-life-of-father-nicola-yanney/

Find additional information about Fr. Nicola Yanney, including interviews, videos, and slide shows related to his life and his gifts to the Antiochian Orthodox Church in America; a map of the states that he served; and more at St. George Orthodox Christian Church (the parish that he helped to found in Kearney, Nebraska)’s website: https://www.saintgeorgekearney.com/reverend_nicola_yanney

Here are some gleanings from the book:

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“He would soon be married, and he wanted Martha and their children to live in safety and peace… In America, he could make a new home not only for himself and Martha but also for his brothers. If they all worked together, Nicola could send enough money to make sure that their father would live the rest of his days in comfort, cared for by loved ones who would remain in their village. To do this, however, Nicola himself would have to leave home.” (p. 23,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“While Martha continued to refurbish the [sod] house, Nicola turned his attention to the rest of the homestead. He only had a few months to prepare. Both he and Martha had experienced light snowfalls in the foothills of Koura, but nothing had prepared them for winter on the open plains… In the worst weather, the family would be beyond the reach of help for days and sometimes weeks at a time. Stables and pens had to be built for their animals and more supplies had to be brought from town and stored for the winter in case the roads became impassable.” (p. 51,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“Even without a church of their own, the Syrians celebrated Saint Simeon’s feast day together as they had back in Fi’eh, as well as Christmas, Pascha, and other holy days. Nicola especially desired to help the newcomers, knowing how difficult it was to keep his Orthodox faith in the foreign land, especially without a church or a priest. Though their gatherings were filled with folk songs, dancing, and food, Nicola always remembered to offer prayers and lead his friends in singing hymns, knowing that it was their faith that bound the small community together more than anything else.” (pp. 58-59,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“The kindly priest was… interested to hear of Nicola’s education at the monastery school. One of the reasons for his cross-country tour was to find pious men who might be ordained to serve the scattered Orthodox Syrians. Hearing this, the Syrians suggested that Father Raphael meet the Yanneys… At nine o’clock in the evening, fifteen of the Yanneys’ friends piled into four wagons to accompany Father Raphael on the eighteen-mile trip to the homestead… As they drew near the farm, their singing and shouting grew louder. Several of the men drew out their pistols and fired shots into the air to wake their unsuspecting friends. The Yanneys came running out of their small home, astonished by what was happening, and fell at Father Raphael’s feet. The priest greeted them warmly.” (pp. 72-73,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“With no other Syrian Orthodox priest living within a thousand miles of Kearney, Father Nicola had to serve his daughter’s funeral… At the conclusion of the funeral, Father Nicola placed his priestly stole on Anna’s head and said the prayer of absolution. He had arrived too late to hear her confession or to give her Holy communion.” (p. 146,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“‘My dear Elias, may you be pleasing to God. Be the best version of yourself. Avoid crude and offensive talk. Do not joke coarsely or easily give your heart to others. Be conscientious of your health before anything else… I ask God’s special blessings on you, that you take care of your brothers and your fellow countrymen. Make me proud. Keep me posted about yourself and write me often so that I always know you are fine. I kiss your cheeks thousands and millions of times…’” ~ from a letter Fr. Nicola wrote to his son Elias (pp. 183,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“Though he had been tending to his parishioners only hours earlier, Father Nicola was confined to bed—unable to rise, his strength gone. By late that night, he knew that he was dying and had little time left. Motioning weakly, he beckoned his sons to his side. He had left them on their own so many times, and now he was leaving them once more. Calling Elias, John, and Moses close, Father Nicola said goodbye as he struggled for breath. As they leaned over their father, he gave them a final word by which he himself had tried to live, whispering, ‘Keep your hands and your heart clean.’”(p. 247,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“The legacy of Father Nicola Yanney continues to this day… In him we see a worthy model of the Christian life—one who was faithful in adversity, steadfast in suffering, zealous in evangelism, and selfless in serving others. Through the daily sacrifice of his priesthood, Father Nicola laid down his life for his friends in imitation of his Master.” (pp. 266-267, “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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More On House Blessings

Several years ago we wrote about house blessings. If you missed that post, check it out here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/01/13/time-for-house-blessings/. The post encourages us to prepare our hearts and our home for our house blessing. Included are links to articles explaining the importance of having our home blessed, the actual house blessing service, the troparion (so we can practice singing it as a family before our house blessing), and a printable page that can help our family to prepare for our house blessing.

After checking out that piece and all that it has to offer, take a look at what we are sharing here. We have done a little more research, and have found several additional resources. We think that you may find them helpful, so we are sharing them here as an “extension” of sorts to our original post.

May the Lord bless us all and our families, as we prepare our hearts and our home for our house blessing!

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“Since our homes cannot be brought to the Church, the Church – through the priest and cantor – go to the homes. There, the service of blessing, which began in the church, is finished with the sprinkling of water in the home… By sanctifying our living quarters, our private place, we extend the grace of God to our individual dwellings.” Read more about house blessings in this article: https://blog.obitel-minsk.com/2017/06/why-do-orthodox-christians-have-their.html

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Families with young children may find this information and lesson about Holy Theophany (which talks a bit about house blessings) helpful to use to teach the children about this wonderful event. https://orthodoxpebbles.com/new-testament/holy-theophany/

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Draw Near Designs offered a simple guide to prepare for your house blessing, complete with a “map” of where on your prayer table to place each item needed for the blessing. They have also included ways to incorporate children in the preparation for the blessing, for example: “Have your kids pretend to be the priest and walk around the house blessing or censing it. Have them remove any toys that are in their way and in turn would be in the priest’s way as he walks though the house.” Check out their post here: https://www.drawneardesigns.com/blog/2019/1/23/house-blessings?

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Author Jane G. Meyer wrote a beautiful, child-centered piece about house blessings, and shared it on the Orthodox Christian Network. “There may be a few rituals in the Orthodox Church that we struggle to explain to a young child, but the house blessing is not one of them. Many of the elements that accompany this tradition are appealing to a little one. Here are a few things we’ve discovered over the years that make this tradition especially meaningful…” You can read the ways that she incorporates children into the house blessing in her article, found here: http://myocn.net/for-the-child-the-house-blessing/

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Fr. Hector Firoglanis of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Lancaster, PA, writes about holy water and how having our house blessed with it is important, in this article: http://www.annunciationorthodox.org/publications/annunciator/18-news/spiritual-messages/173-how-holy-water-helps-us. Among other things, he writes, “Holy Water (as is the case with all the sacraments of the Church) is not magic. It is a visible means (in this case, water) through which God transmits to us His invisible Grace. God does not enter our lives in order to make our lives easier; rather, He makes Himself available to give us the strength and Grace to overcome the hardships and challenges of life. There is nothing more important than to teach a young person that God is with us no matter what — during the good times and the bad, during the victories and the losses, in life and in death.” Having our house blessed with Holy Water is one way to help teach our children that God is with us no matter what.

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You may wish to print this prayer from the early church, and allow your child(ren) to decorate it as you talk about your upcoming house blessing. Talk together about all of the things we are asking God to do when we pray this prayer and when we have our house blessed. Perhaps your family will find it helpful to incorporate this prayer for the blessing of your house into your prayers more regularly than once a year!

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Zaccheus welcomed Christ into his home with generosity. “Do they (your children) see you welcoming Christ into your home by giving what you can to those who need it?… Is it clear to everyone who lives there and visits there that your house is a house of prayer?” Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick challenges his listeners to welcome Christ as Zaccheus did, not just for the house blessing, but all year around. https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/emmaus/are_we_ready_for_jesus_to_visit_sermon_jan._22_2017

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A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Appendix 1

 

Note: This is the final blog post in a series which offers ideas of how to build up the little church in your home, based on the book “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker. Each week we have focused on one portion of the book and shared 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

 

Appendix 1: Making Your Way Through the Liturgical Year

“Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” concludes with a few appendices. The first one is extensive (48 pages), and is the only one we will be featuring. This appendix is an extremely helpful addition to the book. It goes through the Church year and offers suggestions of ways that families can bring the life of the Church into their little church throughout the year.

The appendix offers fun activity ideas ranging from suggested songs to recipes to related science experiments. It also offers suggestions and directions for simple crafts that families can create to enhance their celebrations of feasts or deepen the meaning of the season. The suggestions are as varied as the expected readership, and most of the activities/crafts can be adjusted to be done with children of a variety of ages.

In our opinion, this section of the book is the most likely for readers to revisit in the years that they have children living at home, because of its helpful suggestions for the feasts and fasts of the Church year.

If you wish to interact with the authors of “Blueprints For the Little Church”, you can connect with Elissa here: https://elissabjeletich.com/contact/ and email Caleb at caleb.shoemaker@gmail.com. You may wish to also check out their Pinterest boards at  https://www.pinterest.com/orthoblueprints/boards/.

Here are a few gleanings from Appendix 1:

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(on Prayerfulness as one of the highlights of the feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God) “Here at the beginning of the liturgical year is a good day to spruce up the family prayer corner with the children. You might clean out the shelves, allowing children to dust and polish (and discuss) the various items you keep there. In addition, we might allow the children to create little prayer books, either copying down or printing up the prayers of your family prayer rule and binding them into little books…” (p. 176, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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(prior to the Nativity Fast) “Younger children can visualize the preparation of a soft place for Jesus by creating a little manger out of a box and then slowly filling it with cotton balls every day, as they mark a good deed one for each day of the fast.” (p. 181, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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(at Theophany) “On Theophany, priests all over the world perform the Blessing of the Waters, blessing vessels of water such as rivers, lakes, and oceans. Jesus’ sanctification of the waters is repeated every year. Imagine how many times a single drop of water may have been blessed in the last two thousand years!
…Try this visual demonstration of God’s grace flowing through water: Fill a clear glass container with clean water. Add food coloring… and watch the colored liquid slowly mix into the waters—just as Christ’s holiness has sanctified all the waters of the Earth.” (p. 188, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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(on Great and Holy Friday) “As the hymn conjures the image of the Theotokos at the foot of the Cross, the idea of presenting ourselves—of laying our sins and our troubles—at the foot of the Cross is powerful… Invite children to write their worries, prayers, or sins on slips of paper and prayerfully set them at the foot of the Cross today. Talk with them about how we bring our broken and contrite hearts as an offering to our Lord, trusting that He will heal us and bring us to abundant life.” (p. 206, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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(for the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos) “One day, as she [the Theotokos] prayed on the Mount of Olives, an angel told her that in three days she would join our Lord in Paradise, and he gave her a palm branch from Paradise. She returned home to prepare herself… then lay down on her bed and fell asleep in the Lord. There was a beautiful funeral procession: first, St. John the Beloved carried the branch from Paradise, and then St. Peter carried the censer… [as they] brought her to her tomb at Gethsemane.

…We might head outside and gather some branches or sticks and then decorate them like the branch from Paradise that the angel brought to the Theotokos… Children can… use whatever supplies you have on hand to decorate their branch: they might paint it and cover it with glitter or plastic gemstones; they might draw and cut out leaves or fruits and glue them on.” (p. 219, “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 9

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 9: Growing Up

The ninth chapter of “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” focuses on the opportunity to let our children go as they grow up. The chapter encourages the reader to consider how to best release their child(ren) into God’s care and nurture their children’s spirituality without a drop of coercion. We can offer and pray the Faith into their life, but each child must choose to live it for him/herself.

The chapter includes many quotes from saints, such as this one from St. Porphyrios: “Pray and then speak. That’s what to do with your children. If you are constantly lecturing them, you’ll become tiresome and when they grow up they’ll feel a kind of oppression. Prefer prayer and speak to them through prayer. Speak to God and God will speak to their hearts.” (p. 164) The chapter also offers numerous examples from the authors, suggesting what they have found/are finding helpful in this regard, in their own families.

This ninth chapter is in fact the end of the entire book, not just because it’s the last numbered chapter. The end goal—the aim of raising our children within the context of the little church—is not to merely offer an Orthodox Christian environment in which they can grow up. Rather, the goal of the little church is for family members to walk alongside each other as each of us chooses to live out our Orthodox Christian life. This chapter may seem to be focused on older children, but is very important for parents of younger children to read it closely, for it suggests attitudes and actions that must be successfully taught and modeled long before the children reach young adulthood.

Have a parenting 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 9:

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“If we really believe the words of the prayers said at baptism and chrismation, then we cannot simply categorize children into ‘the future.’ They are the parish now, fully invested in what happens around them. If we are raising them in a consciously Orthodox home, in the little church and also in the larger Church, our kids will grow up understanding themselves as having an Orthodox identity.” (pp. 161-162, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“We should not fear this process of testing faith and inviting growth, but instead we should help guide it. We can teach our children who struggle with doubt to pray the prayer of the father in the Gospel, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’” (p. 163, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“The most important thing we parents can do is pray. We can ask that God heal our children and fill them up with profound faith. We can call in the saints and beg help from the guardian angels who watch over them. We can talk to their godparents and get counsel from their confessor. We have armies of help within our reach, and we must call for them urgently at all times throughout our children’s lives.” (p. 164 “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“After years of having credibility with our children, it can be very painful when the children grow into adolescents and stop trusting the information we give… In this process, we should expect to be humbled. God is faithful. He loves our children more deeply than we ever could, and He is always calling us back to His love and into His Church.” (p. 165, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“St. Porphyrios said, ‘It is not sufficient for the parents to be devout. They musn’t oppress the children to make them good by force. We may repel our children from Christ when we pursue the things of our religion with egotism.’ We must work to keep our ego out of this process, and to offer our children an Orthodox way of life without forcing and oppressing them.” (p. 167, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Imagine your child is suffering and you cannot help—whether the child is sick or struggling, parents are eventually forced to recognize their own limits. Suddenly, we see that only God can help, and that indeed, our child belongs to God. We often forget that we are all God’s children first, and parents are merely trusted stewards of His beloved children. When there is something wrong with our children, when they struggle for any reason, we should first pray, ‘Lord, Your child needs You. Come, Lord.’” (p. 169, “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: “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” By the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour”

Author’s note: Recently we became aware that the V. Rev. Fr. Michael Shanbour has finished writing his children’s catechism book, “The Good Samaritan”, and has published it with illustrations by Nicholas Malara. We inquired about the book, and Fr. Michael very kindly shared an electronic copy with us so that we could read it and share it with you. This fully-illustrated hardcover book is geared to children ages 6-12.

“The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” is an excellent resource for any parent or teacher interested in guiding the children in their care towards Christ and the Church. The book is thorough, addressing the basic beliefs of the Orthodox Christian Faith. Fr. Michael calls each of the 13 chapters a “lesson”, for they are set up as such, intended for an older Orthodox Christian to lead the discussion as the book is read together with a child or group. Each lesson focuses on a different portion of our Faith, teaching through stories from the Scriptures or the lives of the saints, as well as through questions about common experiences that we all share. The discussion leader/teacher can read straight from the book, or paraphrase, turning parts of the book into questions to facilitate the discussion. Along the way, Father Michael has included teaching tips that suggest active ways to engage with the text, as well as occasional endnotes which offer additional background information. Each chapter builds on the chapter before in a seamless manner.

At the book’s website, Fr. Michael offers a succinct glimpse at the lessons offered in the book. “In the catechism we are taken from life in Paradise (Lesson 1), through the Fall of Adam (Lesson 2) and the reality of sin (Lesson 3), and into life and redemption through Jesus Christ (Lesson 4). In the Church (Lesson 5) we then encounter Holy Tradition (Lesson 6), the dynamic “river” that runs through the midst of the Church and provides the living water for thirsty souls. The treasure of Holy Tradition then presents the Holy Mysteries of the Priesthood (Lesson 7), the Eucharist (Lesson 8), and Baptism (Lesson 9), along with Repentance and Confession (Lesson 10), all of which are essential for the health and salvation of our souls. Finally, Prayer (Lesson 11), Fasting (Lesson 12) and Almsgiving (Lesson 13) are shown to be the indispensable means of union with God and as lifegiving manifestations of faith, hope, and love.”

Fr. Michael crafted this catechism book over a period of many years. Through his work with the children in his parish (both as a youth director and as a priest) he was able to create this curriculum and test it with the children in his parish. In the author’s preface, he states “by the grace of God we present this catechism with the hope of not only enlightening our dear children with the unchanging truths revealed to the Saints but as a means of spiritual formation — that the Orthodox Christian Faith might become a living reality in their hearts and minds. We have tried to do so in a way that will engage their imaginative faculty in the most positive sense while maintaining and unbending faithfulness to the Orthodox scriptural-patristic tradition preserved in the experience of the Holy Church.“ (p.i)

The illustrations in this book are colorful and heartwarming. Nicholas Malara has a talent for creating age-appropriate and engaging illustrations that draw in the reader. His style varies greatly: we’ve admired his work before in the simple “Good Night Jesus” board book, where he uses a style perfect for toddlers; and we’ve gazed in wide-eyed admiration at his threatening dragon defeated by a mighty angel in “Sasha and the Dragon”. In “The Good Samaritan”, Malara has included a variety of children in the illustrations, and he has beautifully illustrated the Bible stories with unique perspective. His use of light encapsulates the message of the text and speaks volumes through his illustrations. He has infused the entire book with gentle reality which draws the reader in, engaging them further in each lesson. Malara’s illustrations are a joyful compliment to the text.

In its 100+ pages, this hardcover book helps parents, homeschoolers, and Sunday Church school teachers to better be able to teach their children/students about the Holy Orthodox Church and our Faith. “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” can be purchased at https://www.wenorthodox.com/product-page/the-good-samaritan-a-children-s-catechism. (Note: funds raised from the purchase of this book will help Father Michael’s parish, Three Hierarchs Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church in Wenatchee, WA, to build a Church building. They are currently worshiping in a small modular building.)

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

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“The title, ‘The Good Samaritan’, is inspired by Saint John Chrysostom and other Church fathers who, in addition to the more common moral interpretation of showing Christ-like compassion for those in need, have interpreted this parable of the Lord (Luke 10:30-35) as an icon or analogy of the entire economy of salvation. Through this lens we can perceive the Church for what she is—the ‘spiritual hospital’ for the healing of the sickness of sin, and the place where we receive the true ‘Medicine,’ Jesus Christ, through her sacramental, ascetical, and hesychastic Tradition.” (p. ii , “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“Our Christian faith can seem like a puzzle… Because there are lots of different pieces. But all of those pieces together make a beautiful picture. It’s a picture, or icon, of Jesus Christ with His Holy Body, the Church .” (p. 2, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“… Everything in the church—icons, incense, vestments, the Bible, hymns, prayers, almsgiving, the Commandments and doctrines, fasting and struggling against temptation, liturgy and services, sacraments—have only one purpose: to heal us from sin and to join us to God. The cChurch is heaven on earth. Her job is to make everyone and everything holy and united to God. That is Paradise!” (p. 8, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“Paradise—the place where God put Adam and Eve—was like the Church, heaven on earth. But God didn’t want Paradise to be a small place, or just for a few people. He wanted us to make the whole world Paradise. He wanted us to help make the whole world a Church; one big Church where people live with God and God with them. But Adam and Eve only lived in Paradise for a short while. God gave them the ability to make choices. He wanted them to love Him, not because they had to, because they wanted to. He allowed them to make the choice to reject Him and turn away from truth and life. That choice is called sin.” (p. 15, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“Only one tree! Just one tree they could not eat from! That doesn’t sound hard, does it? It’s like when mom says, ‘You can play over here, or over there, and even way over there, but don’t go down there, close to the river!’ Why does she say that? Is it because she doesn’t want you to have fun? No. It’s because she doesn’t want you to get hurt, right?… But sometimes we’re tempted to do it anyway, aren’t we?… This is what happened to Adam and Eve.” (p. 20, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“But when Adam sinned, the icon became dark and dirty. The icon was covered over by sins, like mud or dust covers over a window or a beautiful picture. Imagine a bright and beautiful icon of Jesus Christ. Now imagine that the same icon has been buried in the ground for many years. What has happened to the icon? It has become dark and dingy, dirty and dim. Can you see the image well now? No! It needs to be cleaned. This is what happened to Adam and what happens to us because of sin.” (p. 28 , “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“Have you ever put your shirt on inside-out? It looks kind of funny right? The picture on the shirt isn’t very clear and the tag is sticking out. That’s how our human nature had become because of sin. So how do you fix the shirt that’s inside out? You pull it off to make it right-side-up and put it back on. That’s sort of what God did for us. God’s Son, Jesus, put on our inside-out humanity and made it right-side-up by living a sinless life in perfect communion with God the Father.” (p. 35, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“So where do we get the spiritual medicine that the Lord Jesus has for us by His becoming man, dying, and rising again? It is similar to the doctor and the hospital. Jesus is the Doctor, the Great Physician, and the Church is the Hospital. It is in the Church that we find the medicines for our soul. The medicine is from Christ, who is the Head, but we find it in the Church, His Body..”(pp. 41-42, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“Now, did you know there is a river that runs through the Church? There is a river of grace! It is what keeps the medicine flowing to all who need it. What is this river of grace? It is called the Tradition of the Church—Holy or sacred Tradition. The Holy Tradition flows from God the Father, through His Son, and by the Holy Spirit into the Church.” (p. 47, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“God has given to the Church special protectors to guard the River of Grace and keep it from getting polluted. They guard the holy teachings of the Church. They also guard the holy things of the Church. Do you know who these guards are? The first guardians where the apostles, who were selected by Jesus. But who became the protectors of Holy Tradition after the apostles? It was the bishops and priests of the Church! And it is the same today.” (p. 55, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“We have learned that Jesus Christ is the Medicine that heals us and brings us back to life with God. His body and blood is the strongest medicine of all and fills us with God’s own life. As Saint Ignatius said, it has the power to give us immortality. What is immortality? It means living forever with God and with God in us. Would you like to live like that forever? That can happen if we are in communion with Jesus, if we are with Him and in harmony with Him and His Body..”(p.66, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“And how are we born in the Church? What is the mystery that makes us into a new person, as if we are born again? (Here’s a hint: when it happens, you should probably hold your breath. Another hint: we begin our new life with a splash!) Did you get it? Yes, it is the Sacrament of Holy Baptism! .” (p.73, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“When an archer hits the target, it means his aim is good and he is shooting straight. But when he misses the target, there’s something wrong. His aim is off. The same is true for our soul. When we walk in the light of Christ, we are pointing ourselves toward God. We are hitting the target. But when we sin we are shooting in the wrong direction. We have missed the target of what God created us to be and to do.”(p.86, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“This is how we are to be with God: like best friends. Do you forget your best friend? No! And we should try not to forget God either. Do you know what it is called when we remember God? It is called prayer. Prayer is when our hearts are joined together with God.” (p.91, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“Fasting is prayer for our bodies. Because, as we said before, we are called to pray not just with our mind, but with our whole strength, with all our energy and focus, with our whole being, with our whole body.” (p. 100, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“ Prayer and fasting are like two wings. But almsgiving is the ‘wind’ that lift our wings upward to God.” (p. 105, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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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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