A Handful of Resources – Summer 2018

Several fantastic resources have recently come to our attention. Some of them have been around for a few years, while others are recently published, but all of them were new to us and we consider them well worth sharing! Here they are:

  1. The SuperHolies series of books by Mireille Mishriky includes three books from 2016 to date, with more to come: Philo and the SuperHolies, Philo and the Patience SuperHoly, and Philo, Rose, and the Joy SuperHoly. Each book explores the “SuperHolies” (the virtues mentioned in the Scriptures as the fruit of the Holy Spirit), which can be “activated” in our life when we ask for God’s help. Each book tells about a time when Philo (a Coptic Orthodox boy) finds himself in a tough spot, remembers the SuperHolies, and then prays by making the sign of the cross. This activates the “SuperHolies” in his life and helps him respond as he should!

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Philo and the SuperHolies introduces Philo to the SuperHolies and offers him the opportunity to activate the Kindness SuperHoly when he unexpectedly meets up (again!) with a neighborhood bully.

Philo and the Patience SuperHoly tells about one time when Philo was feeling impatient during liturgy at his Coptic parish, and how activating the Patience SuperHoly helps him not just during the service, but throughout the remainder of the day!

Philo, Rose, and the Joy SuperHoly follows Philo to the hospital early one summer when he falls and breaks his arm. He laments all the summer fun that he will have to miss because of his cast. His new friend Rose (who has a heart condition) encourages Philo to activate the Joy SuperHoly in his life; demonstrates her own Joy SuperHoly in the way that she lives; and gives Philo ideas of ways to rejoice in the midst of his suffering.

  1. Love & Joy Coloring Book by Draw Near Designs, copyrighted 2017, is a child-sized (or purse sized!) coloring book with 25 spreads featuring saints of the Orthodox Church and a quote from/about each.

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  1. Beautiful Things: An Orthodox Coloring Book for Children, illustrated by Megan Elizabeth Gilbert, was just published in 2018 by Ancient Faith Publishing. It features 64 pages of illustrations to color or activities to complete that are based on beautiful things that we learn about in the Church.

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Purchasing information:
Find the Philo books here: https://www.mireillemishriky.com/books/

Find Love & Joy here:  https://amazon.com/Love-Joy-Coloring-Book-Gann/dp/1977981887

Find Beautiful Things here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/beautiful-things-an-orthodox-coloring-book-for-children/

 

Read on to find more about each resource, as well as offer a few suggestions of how to use them with your family:

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The Philo/SuperHolies books offer a story-based way to help children think about the virtues of peace, love, joy, kindness, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – the fruit of the Spirit of God. Each book stands well on its own, but in our opinion, they work best as a series. In each book, Philo learns how to demonstrate a fruit of the Spirit, after asking for God’s help.

Philo and the SuperHolies offers families a chance to learn and talk about the “SuperHolies,” the personification of virtues which author Mireille Mishriky has created for the virtues which are the fruit of the Spirit. Each SuperHoly is briefly explained in this book, along with a very realistic example of how it can help us to live a truly Orthodox life. The SuperHolies are introduced in the context of a story about Philo and a neighborhood bully. Philo gets to test out the power of the Kindness SuperHoly when that bully shows up in a place where Philo least expected to meet him. Not at all “preachy,” this cleverly educational book will be very helpful to Orthodox parents who want a hands-on way to discuss the application of virtues with their children. The superhero qualities of the SuperHolies will help all of us want to have them “activated” in our life!

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After reading Philo and the SuperHolies, ask each family member to tell which SuperHoly they like the best, and explain why. Invite family members to tell of another family member who does a good job of activating a SuperHoly in their life, and which SuperHoly that is. Encourage each person to think of one SuperHoly that they often fail to activate, remember how Philo’s grandma introduced that one, and say a prayer to ask God’s help to “activate” that SuperHoly the next time you need it!

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Philo and the Patience SuperHoly tells the story of one Sunday when Philo is looking forward to a family barbecue after church. He finds himself feeling very impatient during liturgy at his Coptic parish. He tries so hard to be still and quiet, but does not succeed. Activating the Patience SuperHoly by praying with the sign of the Cross helps Philo during the remainder of the Divine Service and even throughout the rest of the day!

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Philo’s Patience SuperHoly offers him a variety of ideas of ways to be patient during liturgy. Some of them may be helpful to your family, as well! After reading this story, talk together about which of these ideas work well for your family, share additional ideas that you may have which are not included in this book, then pray that God will help each of you be patient and focus as you help to “do the work of the people” at each liturgy!

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Philo, Rose, and the Joy SuperHoly offers each reader the chance to measure how well we are activating the Joy SuperHoly in our own life. Are we more like Philo, lamenting all he’ll miss during summer vacation in the four weeks he has his cast after breaking his arm? Or are we more like Rose, born with a heart condition that requires her to spend much of her life in the hospital, but whose very disposition radiates gratitude and joy? In the story, Rose gently encourages Philo to activate the Joy SuperHoly in his own life, and then she gives him ideas of ways to rejoice in the midst of his suffering.

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After reading this book, talk with your family about it. Do you agree with Rose that “Thankful people are always joyful?” What examples can you give to backup your answer? Invite family members to share stories of times when they have (or have not!) activated the Joy SuperHoly in their life, and what happened as a result. Does your family know anyone who is like Rose? Challenge each other to think of the things you CAN do, and be thankful to God for them, instead of focusing on the things you CAN’T do, the next time a struggle comes your way! Pray and ask God to help each of you to do a better job of choosing to live a life of joy and gratitude.

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Love & Joy Coloring Book by Draw Near Designs is a beautiful little coloring book that is not just a coloring book! Each of the 25 spreads offers a simplified-icon-like drawing of a saint (or two), along with a quote related to them. We love the size of this book (it is a compact 5”x7”), the carefully drawn saints, and the wisdom of the quotes. Even long after the fun of coloring the book is finished, it will be useful because of the saints and quotes.

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Consider purchasing multiple copies of this book. Then utilize each spread as a family devotional time. The family members who enjoy coloring can color the spread while others research the life of the saint depicted, and share what they learn. Finish the time by discussing the quote, how it was demonstrated by the saint, and how you can apply it to your own life. Pray and ask the saint to intercede on your family’s behalf, then ask God to help each of you emulate the saint’s life.

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Beautiful Things: An Orthodox Coloring Book for Children, illustrated by Megan Elizabeth Gilbert, is a coloring book for all ages. There are a range of drawings from simple to complex, and all feature beautiful things about our Faith. The book is not just a coloring book: it also includes a variety of activity pages, as well as open-ended drawing pages.

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This book would be a good way for parents and children (especially younger children) to wind down together after a busy day, coloring a page or two together while talking about the day while also talking a bit about the beautiful thing(s) they are coloring/doing in the book and how they relate to the Faith. It would also be a great activity book for families with long car rides to church (if those using it can color without getting carsick!). Or perhaps a family may wish to have this book on hand for use during Holy Week, to keep their focus on Christ and His Church even in their “down” time.

Learning About the Saints: St. Tikhon of Zadonsk (August 13 or 26)

In 1724, in the village of Korotsk, in the Novgorod diocese of Russia, Sabellius Kirillov and his wife had a baby boy, who they named Timothy. Timothy’s father was a cantor. Unfortunately, when Timothy was still young, his father died. The family was very poor after Sabellius’ death. Timothy’s mother planned to send Timothy to live in the home of their neighbor, who was a coachman, but Timothy’s brother Peter stopped her. Since the family was so poor, Timothy had to work outside of the home, even while he was still very young. He would work all day just to get a piece of bread to eat.

When Timothy was 13, he was sent to a school near the Novgorad archbishop’s home. He paid his way through school by working with the vegetable gardeners. Three years later, God provided a grant that allowed Timothy to attend the Novgorod Seminary. He did really well in school, and became a teacher at the seminary after graduation. He taught Greek, then rhetoric and philosophy. Four years later, Timothy was tonsured with the name Tikhon and he became the seminary prefect.

A year later, Tikhon was transferred to Tver, where he became the archimandrite of Zheltikov Monastery. He worked there until he was made rector of the Tver Seminary and placed in charge of the Otroch Monastery.

Fr. Tikhon was named as one of eight candidates for bishop of Novgorod. In the process of discerning who should be bishop, three times the lot fell in Tikhon’s favor. So, on May 13, 1761, Fr. Tikhon was consecrated as the bishop of Novgorod.

Two years later, Bishop Tikhon was transferred to Voronezh. While he worked in that diocese, the bishop encouraged his people by his life, his guidance, and the books that he wrote. He did what he could to make sure that every priest, deacon, and monk had a copy of the New Testament. He encouraged them to read it every day. He also encouraged them to be very reverent when they were performing their holy duties. He worked very hard to build up the churches in his diocese, to convert a school into a monastery, and to help pastors realize how important it was for people to be educated. He worked so hard that sometimes he did not have time to sleep! Because of all of this work, by 1767, Bishop Tikhon’s poor health forced him to stop being the bishop. He went to the Tolshevsk Monastery to rest and recover.

After almost two years of recovery, Bishop Tikhon went to the monastery of the Theotokos in Zadonsk. While he was there, he taught people about the Christian life. He was so wise. But Bishop Tikhon did not just tell people how to be a good monastic! Instead of telling them, he showed them with his own life how to do so! Almost every day, he went to the church and served or read or sang in the choir. Later, in humility he stopped doing those things that made him visible. Instead, he would just stand quietly in the altar during the divine services, reverently making the sign of the cross. Outside of church, Bishop Tikhon spent a lot of time reading about the saints and reading the writings of the Holy Fathers. He memorized the whole Psalter so that he could recite or sing the Psalms while he traveled from one place to another.

When he was healthy again, Bishop Tikhon considered going back to Novgorod. He missed his flock there and wanted to help them, and they invited him to return. But his elder, Elder Aaron, would not allow it. Bishop Tikhon did not argue with Elder Aaron even though he wanted to go. Instead, he tore up the invitation to return and continued quietly serving at the monastery. During these years, he kept writing. He wrote “A Spiritual Treasury, Gathered from the World” in 1770 and “On True Christianity” in 1776.
Throughout his life, Bishop Tikhon lived very simply. He slept on straw and used a sheepskin coat for his blanket. When workers laughed at him for his simple lifestyle, he would calmly accept their laughter and say, “It is pleasing to God that even the monastery workers mock me, and I deserve it, because of my sins.” One day a fool hit Bishop Tikhon on the cheek and told him not to be so haughty. Instead of being angry or dismissing the fool because he was a fool, the bishop was thankful for the reminder. For the rest of his life, he gave the fool 3 kopeks every day, out of gratitude. The bishop often said, “Forgiveness is better than revenge.”

Bishop Tikhon loved the common people and did whatever he could to help them. Sometimes that meant going to their landowners and helping them become more compassionate to the poor who lived on their land. Other times he gave his own money to the poor. He ended up giving away all of his retirement money! Gifts that his admirers sent to the bishop were also given to the poor.

Near the end of his life, Bishop Tikhon saw visions of the Theotokos and the Apostles Peter and Paul. He was given the ability to prophesy that Russia would win over France in 1812. His attendants reported other wonders performed by the bishop, as well, including seeing him transformed in prayer, with his face glowing. In his humility, he asked them not to talk about it.

Bishop Tikhon knew that he would repose on a Sunday, and he was given a three-year warning before his repose. This is how he learned about it: he had a vision of a beautiful meadow. He wanted to go into the meadow, but was told “In three years you may enter. For now, continue your labors.” After seeing the vision, the bishop stayed in his cell much of the time, and received communion frequently. Not long before he died, he had a dream of a tall, twisty ladder. He heard a command that he should climb the ladder. He was afraid at first, because he was ill and weak. But he told his friend Cosmas, “when I started to go climb, the people standing around the ladder lifted me higher and higher, up to the very clouds.” Cosmas told him that he thought perhaps the ladder was the way to the Heavenly Kingdom, and that the people helping him climb were all the souls that Bishop Tikhon had helped by his advice. Now they were helping him into heaven as they remembered him. The bishop, crying, agreed that he had had the same thought and that he would soon depart this life. And he did, on Sunday, August 13, 1783. He was only 59.
Almost 53 years later, on May 14, 1864, Bishop Tikhon’s relics were uncovered and found to be incorrupt. He was elevated to sainthood by the Holy Orthodox Church on Sunday August 13, 1861.

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, please pray for our salvation!
Sources: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/73196.htm and https://oca.org/saints/lives/2011/08/13/102287-st-tikhon-the-bishop-of-voronezh-and-wonderworker-of-zadonsk-and

St. Tikhon has been called “The Chrysostom of the Russian Church” because of his many straightforward and beautiful writings and teachings. Here are a few of his teachings. May his words bless and challenge us to follow Christ more fully!

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“Sinners that repent are still saved; both publicans and fornicators cleansed by repentance enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
The compassionate God still calls to Himself all that have turned away, and He awaits them and promises them mercy.
The loving Father still receives His prodigal sons come back from a far country and He opens the doors of His house and clothes them in the best robe, and gives them each a ring on their hand and shoes on their feet and commands all the saints to rejoice in them.” ~ St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

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“Prayer does not consist merely in standing and bowing your body or in reading written prayers….it is possible to pray at all times, in all places, with mind and spirit. You can lift up your mind and heart to God while walking, sitting, working, in a crowd and in solitude. His door is always open, unlike man’s. We can always say to Him in our hearts, ‘Lord have mercy.’” ~ St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

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“In going to church, think that thou art going to the house of the King of Heaven, where with fear and joy one ought to stand as in heaven before the King of Heaven. While standing in church, do not look around to the sides and do not look at how someone is standing and praying, lest thou be condemned with the Pharisee, since thou didst not come to judge others, but to ask for mercy for thyself from God the Judge and Knower of hearts. Gaze with compunction toward the altar alone, where the holy sacrifice is offered. More than anything else, beware of laughter and conversations, for whoever laughs or converses while standing in church does not render honor to the holy place and tempts others and prevents others from praying.” ~ St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

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“If we want, Christian, to have our heart filled with divine love we must first empty them of the love of this world, its frivolous and sinful customs and then turn our hearts to the one God, our only good and happiness and eternal beatitude.” ~ St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

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“Let thy mind fast from vain thoughts; let thy memory fast from remembering evil; let thy will fast from evil desire; let thine eyes fast from bad sights: turn away thine eyes that thou mayest not see vanity; let thine ears fast from vile songs and slanderous whispers; let thy tongue fast from slander, condemnation, blasphemy, falsehood, deception, foul language and every idle and rotten word; let thy hands fast from killing and from stealing another’s goods; let thy legs fast from going to evil deeds: Turn away from evil, and do good.” ~ St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

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“Do we refuse to forgive? God, too, will refuse to forgive us. As we treat our neighbours, so also does God treat us. The forgiveness or unforgiveness of your sins, then, and hence also your salvation or destruction, depend on you yourself. For without forgiveness of sins there is no salvation. You can see for yourself how serious it is.” ~ St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

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“We were created for eternal life by our Creator, we are called to it by the word of God, and we are renewed by holy Baptism. And Christ the Son of God came into the world for this, that He should call us and take us there, and He is the one thing needful. For this reason your very first endeavor and care should be to receive it. Without it everything is as nothing, though you have the whole world under you.” ~ St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

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“It is a fearful thing to hate whom God hath loved. To look upon another-his weaknesses, his sins, his faults, his defects is to look upon one who is suffering. He is suffering from negative passions, from the same sinful human corruption from which you yourself suffer. This is very important: do not look upon him with judgmental eyes of comparison, noting the sins you assume you’d never commit. Rather, see him as a fellow sufferer, a fellow human being who is in need of the very healing of which you are in need. Help him, love him, pray for him do unto him as you would have him do unto you.” ~ St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

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“As fire is not extinguished by fire, so anger is not conquered by anger, but is made even more inflamed. But meekness often subdues even the most beastly enemies, softens them and pacifies them.” ~ St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

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“Many flatter themselves and consider themselves to be good, humble, and meek, but they will discover the contrary under temptation.  Do not not become despondent in temptations, then, but give all the more thanks to God that He thus brings you to what is hidden in your heart – the knowledge of yourself – and wishes you to be corrected and be saved.” ~ St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

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“True Christians live in this world as travelers, pilgrims, and sojourners, and they look ever toward their heavenly homeland with faith and with the eyes of the soul, and they strive to reach it. You should also be a pilgrim and sojourner in this world and constantly look toward that homeland and strive to obtain it, and so the world with its enticements and lusts will become abhorrent to you. Whoever seeks eternal blessedness and desires it and strives to reach it will despise everything temporal, lest while seeking the temporal he be deprived of the eternal.” ~ St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

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How can St. Tikhon help you with parenting? Find his writing on the duties of parents to their children here. Be encouraged and challenged by what he has to say: http://www.serfes.org/orthodox/parents.htm

 

On Ideas for Games

For many of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it is still summer vacation, so we have more family time on our hands. What better way to spend some of that time than playing games together? Game playing helps us to have fun together, to practice important things like taking turns and losing gracefully, and (best of all!) to make memories together.

We have gathered some game ideas to share. Perhaps they’ll come in handy now, or maybe they’ll be useful to have tucked away for an upcoming rainy day. Either way, enjoy! And don’t forget to play, too!

Here are some fun game idea pages that we found:

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As a family, plan a game night and invite neighbor families or fellow parishioner families to come over and play some games together. If each family brings a snack to share at the end of the evening, the hardest work to plan the night will be narrowing down the list of amazing games! Need inspiration? Check out these ideas: some classic, some new: http://parentmap.com/article/best-outdoor-indoor-party-games

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Some of these zany games would be fun to do just with the family. Others will be even more fun when played with a larger group. (If you’re planning the previously-suggested neighbor/parishioner game night, you’ll want to consider some of these!) We were especially drawn to the “non-prepackaged” games here: https://playtivities.com/20-family-game-night-ideas/

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Find ideas for indoor or outdoor game fun for children of all ages at this page: https://www.landeeseelandeedo.com/diy-kids-games-activities (We’d especially like to try those marshmallow shooters, the nerf target game, and the q-tip blow darts!)

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Peruse these oldies-but-goodies that may bring back fun memories from your own childhood, and play them together!  https://wired.com/2009/08/simpleoutdoorplay/

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Check out these fun sidewalk chalk ideas, some of which are games: http://lifeasmama.com/10-sidewalk-chalk-ideas-thatll-keep-kids-enterained-for-hours/5/

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These fun dice games for preschoolers include some “seasonal themed” games and some that are multipurpose. (With a little creativity, though, the “seasonal” ideas could be adjusted. For example, the “build a snowman” dice game could inspire a “build a sandcastle” or “dress for swimming” game!) https://www.themeasuredmom.com/dice-games-for-preschoolers/

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Here’s a collection of fun ideas for outdoor games: http://mykidsadventures.com/outdoor-games-for-kids/
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If you’re a DIY person, these games are for you! Have fun creating, then get out and play! https://diyprojects.com/diy-outdoor-family-games/

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There are so many fun game ideas at this page! We were especially intrigued with the non-competitive game ideas! https://www.verywellfamily.com/active-party-games-for-kids-4158603

 

On Struggle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the Lord strengthen us and help us to struggle.

 

Here are additional quotes and encouragement for when we struggle:

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“Every Christian should find for himself the imperative and incentive to become holy. If you live without struggle and without hope of becoming holy, then you are Christians only in name and not in essence. But without holiness, no one shall see the Lord, that is to say they will not attain eternal blessedness. It is a trustworthy saying that ‘Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners’ (I Tim. 1:15). But we deceive ourselves if we think that we are saved while remaining sinners. Christ saves those sinners by giving them the means to become saints.” ~ St. Philaret of Moscow

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“If you want to serve God, prepare your heart not for food, not for drink, not for rest, not for ease, but for suffering, so that you may endure all temptations, trouble and sorrow. Prepare for severities, fasts, spiritual struggles and many afflictions, for ‘by many afflictions is it appointed to us to enter the Kingdom of Heaven’ (Acts 14,22); ‘The Heavenly Kingdom is taken by force, and they who use force seize it’ (Matt 11:12).” ~ St. Sergius of Radonezh

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How can we succeed in our struggles? Not on our own! “Without Christ it is impossible to correct ourselves. We will not be able to detach ourselves from our passions. On our own we cannot become good. Without me, you can do nothing (John 15:5). However much we try, we will achieve nothing. There is one thing we must do, and that is turn to Him and love Him with all our soul (Mark 12:30). Love for Christ: this is the best and sole remedy for the passions.” Read more of St. Porphyrios’ words on spiritual struggle in his article here: http://gometropolis.org/website/on-spiritual-struggle-by-elder-porphyrios/

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Do you ever feel frustrated by your spiritual struggle? You’re not alone! Maybe this will encourage you in those moments: https://orthodoxroad.com/feeling-frustrated-with-the-spiritual-struggle/

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Read about struggle in these excerpts from the diary of St. John of Krondstadt: http://livingorthodoxfaith.blogspot.com/2009/12/on-struggling-by-st-john-of-kronstadt.html (Note: you may wish to meditate on this, one part at a time. There are many excerpts and each is full of wisdom.) It begins thus: “ Do not fear the conflict, and do not flee from it: where there is no struggle, there is no virtue; where there are no temptations for faithfulness and love, it is uncertain whether there is really any faithfulness and love for the Lord. Our faith, trust, and love are proved and revealed in adversities, that is, in difficult and grievous outward and inward circumstances, during sickness, sorrow, and privations…”

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“There are said to be five reasons why God allows us to be assailed by demons. The first is so that, by attacking and counterattacking, we should learn to discriminate between virtue and vice. The second is so that, having acquired virtue through conflict and toil, we should keep it secure and immutable. The third is so that, when making progress in virtue, we should not become haughty but learn humility. The fourth is so that, having gained some experience of evil, we should ‘hate it with perfect hatred’ (cf. Ps. 139:22). The fifth and most important is so that, having achieved dispassion, we should forget neither our own weakness nor the power of Him who has helped us.” ~ St. Maximos the Confessor

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“A certain brother fell into temptation, and through tribulation relinquished the garb of monkhood; and he wished to begin to renew his ascetic life, but he saw the great difficulty of the matter, and he drew back, and said, ‘When shall I ever find myself in the same condition as I was formerly?’ And through fear he did not begin his work, and he went and made the matter known to an old man, and the old man said, ‘The matter is thus: There was a certain man who possessed an estate, and he held it to be of no account and did not cultivate it, and it became full of tangled undergrowth and thorns. Now one day he remembered it, and he sent his son, and said unto him, “Go, clean the estate.” And when he had gone and seen the abundance of the undergrowth he was afraid, and said to himself, “When shall I be able to clean away all this undergrowth?” And he threw himself upon a bed, and lay down, and went to sleep, and thus he did every day. Then his father went forth and found that he was asleep, and that he had done nothing; and he said unto him, “How is it, my son, that no work whatsoever hath been done by thee?” And he said to his father, “When I came to work and saw the abundance of the undergrowth, I was afraid and said, “When shall I be able to clean all this away?” And his father said unto him, “My son, work according to the measure of thy sleep each day, and it shall be sufficient for thee”; and when he heard this the young man plucked up courage, and did thus, and in a short time he cleansed the estate. Thus also thou shalt not be afraid but begin the work of thy rules, and God, by His Grace, will establish thee among those in the first rank.’ Now when the brother had done thus he was helped.” ~ The Desert Fathers

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“A small but persistent discipline is a great force; for a soft drop falling persistently, hollows out hard rock.” ~ St. Isaac of Syria

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“Let all of us who wish to fear the Lord struggle with our whole might, so that in the school of virtue we do not acquire for ourselves malice and vice, cunning and craftiness, curiosity and anger. For it does happen, and no wonder! As long as a man is a private individual, or a seaman, or a tiller of the soil, the King’s enemies do not war so much against him. But when they see him taking the King’s colors, and the shield, and the dagger, and the sword, and the bow, and clad in soldier’s garb, then they gnash at him with their teeth, and do all in their power to destroy him. And so let us not slumber.” ~ St. John Climacus

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“The Kingdom of Heaven is the very highest beatitude, and the greatest glory and honor, and the most inexhaustible riches; and therefore if great cares and labors are necessary in order to obtain a trifling quantity of earthly wealth, how can such an unspeakable treasure be obtained without labors?” ~ St. Innocent

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“The Lord has ordained that for a little labor, which we temporarily endure in this life, we shall be vouchsafed the Kingdom of the heavens, life everlasting, ineffable delights, and endless rest. As fitting, we believe these promises of the Lord. Therefore, let us leave all the sweet pleasures of the world, as false and short-lived, that we may inherit what is true and ageless.” ~ St. Irene Chrysovalandou of Cappadocia

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We’ve been reading about how struggle benefits us. But it also benefits our children! Are we allowing them to struggle? This article may help us to think about how we can improve! http://blog.connectionsacademy.com/benefits-of-struggling-are-you-helping-your-child-too-much/

On Learning About the Saints

In the Orthodox Church, we are each admonished to learn about the saints. We quote the Holy Fathers and are encouraged to study the lives of all the saints who have gone on before us. But do we ever take a moment to consider why are we encouraged to do this? What value is there in learning about the life of someone who lived so long (years or even millennia) before us?

This blog post will take a look at a few of the reasons why we should learn about the saints; through the words of Holy Fathers and saints.

When we learn about the saints, we can see that they struggled, too.

What is important is not victory or the position of a victor, but rather the labor of striving towards God and devotion to Him.” ~St. John Maximovitch

“…You have seen that on the icons of the saints, the Lord Jesus Christ is represented above, with the imperial globe in one hand and with the other extended in blessing. This is taken from reality. From heaven the Lord ever watches over those who combat for His sake upon earth, He helps them actively, as the almighty King, in their struggle with the enemies of salvation, blesses His wrestlers with ‘peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,’ and bestows the crown of life upon them after they have finished their earthly exploits.” ~St. John of Krondstadt

We can observe the ways in which the saints succeeded (and sometimes also failed!), and learn from them.

“The saints were people like all of us. Many of them came out of great sins, but by repentance they attained the Kingdom of Heaven. And everyone who comes there comes through repentance, which the merciful Lord has given us through His sufferings.” ~St. Silouan the Athonite

“…some falls and relapses of the former sinful life are inevitable. Do not let this disturb you, do not despond. Rome was not built in a day. Everything takes time. It is through many trials and great struggle that we each enter the Kingdom of God…
Sometimes this process of rising proceeds quickly, at times it slows down…Do not be discouraged when you see no improvement. One thing is needful: try to live according to the Gospel commandments…
If you do succumb [to sin], repent before the Lord, ask forgiveness, and rise to fight again. And so until death.” ~Abbot Nikon

“He also said concerning Abba Pior that every day he made a new beginning.” ~Abba Poeman

We can use the saints’ lives as a guide and/or measuring stick to help ourselves stay on track.

“We should always be on the lookout to compare ourselves with the Saints and the lights who have gone before us. If we do, we will discover that we have scarcely begun the ascetic life, that we have hardly kept our vow in a holy manner, and that our thinking is still rooted in the world.” ~St. John Climacus

“A person can become a saint anywhere. He can become a saint in Omonia Square [in Athens, synonymous with vice and corruption], if he wants. At your work, whatever it may be, you can become saints – through meekness, patience and love. Make a new start every day, with new resolution, with enthusiasm and love, prayer and silence – not with anxiety so that you get a pain in the chest. If it happens, for example, that you are given tasks to do that fall outside the remit of your duties it is not right for you to protest and become irritated and complain. Such vexations do you harm. Look on all things as opportunities to be sanctified.” ~St. Porphyrios

We can ask the saints to pray for us.

“Many think that the saints are far from us. But they are far from those who distance themselves from them, and very close to those keep the commandments of Christ and have the grace of the Holy Spirit. In the heavens, all things are moved by the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit is on earth too. He lives in our Church. He lives in the Mysteries. He is in the Holy Scriptures. He is in the souls of the faithful. The Holy Spirit unites all things, and therefore the saints are close to us. And when we pray to them, then the Holy Spirit hears our prayers, and our souls feel that they are praying for us.” ~St. Silouan the Athonite

“’I love them that love me, and glorify them that glorify me.’ (Proverbs 8:17, I Kings 2:30,) says the Lord of His saints. The Lord gave the Holy Spirit to the saints, and they love us in the Holy Spirit. The saints hear our prayers and have the power from God to help us. The entire Christian race knows this.” ~St. Silouan the Athonite

“Call with faith upon the Mother of God and the Saints and pray to them. They hear our prayers and know even our inmost thoughts. And marvel not at this. Heaven and all the saints live by the Holy Spirit and in all the world there is naught hidden by the Holy Spirit. Once upon a time I did not understand how it was that the holy inhabitants of heaven could see our lives. But when the Mother of God brought my sins home to me I realized that they see us in the Holy Spirit and know our entire lives.” ~St. Silouan the Athonite

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, of Thy Most Pure Mother, and of all the Saints, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

Here are a few more quotes from saints about why we can/should learn about and from the saints, as well as a few resources to help us begin the learning!

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“In them [the Lives of the Saints] it is clearly and obviously demonstrated: There is no spiritual death from which one cannot be resurrected by the Divine power of the risen and ascended Lord Christ; there is no torment, there is no misfortune, there is no misery, there is no suffering which the Lord will not change either gradually or all at once into quite, compunctionate joy because of faith in Him. And again there are countless soul-stirring examples of how a sinner becomes a righteous man in the lives of the Saints: how a thief, a fornicator, a drunkard, a sensualist, a murderer, and adulterer becomes a holy man─there are many, many example of this in the Lives of the Saints; how a selfish egoistical, unbelieving, atheistic, proud, avaricious, lustful, evil, wicked, depraved, angry, spiteful, quarrelsome, malicious, envious, malevolent, boastful, vainglorious, unmerciful, gluttonous man becomes a man of God─there are many, many example of this in the Lives of the Saints.

By the same token in the Lives of the Saints there are very many marvelous examples of how a youth becomes a holy youth, a maiden becomes a holy maiden, an old man becomes a holy old man, how an old woman becomes a holy old woman, how a child becomes a holy child, how parents become holy parents, how a son becomes a holy son, how a daughter becomes a holy daughter, how a family becomes a holy family, how a community becomes a holy community, how a priest becomes a holy priest, how a bishop becomes a holy bishop, how a shepherd becomes a holy shepherd, how a peasant becomes a holy peasant, how an emperor becomes a holy emperor, how a cowherd becomes a holy cowherd, how a worker becomes a holy worker, how a judge becomes a holy judge, how a teacher becomes a holy teacher, how an instructor becomes a holy instructor, how a soldier becomes holy soldier, how an officer becomes a holy officer, how a ruler becomes a holy ruler, how a scribe becomes a holy scribe, how a merchant becomes a holy merchant, how a monk becomes a holy monk, how an architect becomes a holy architect, how a doctor becomes a holy doctor, how a tax collector becomes a holy tax collector, how a pupil becomes a holy pupil, how an artisan becomes holy artisan, how a philosopher becomes a holy philosopher, how a scientist becomes a holy scientist, how a statesman becomes a holy statesman, how a minister becomes a holy minister, how a poor man becomes a holy poor man, how a rich man becomes a holy rich man, how a slave becomes a holy slave, how a master becomes a holy master, how a married couple becomes a holy married couple, how an author becomes a holy author, how an artist becomes a holy artist…” ~St. Justin Popovich

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“If you wish, the Lives of the Saints are a sort of Orthodox Encyclopedia. In them can be found everything which is necessary for the soul which hungers and thirsts for eternal righteousness and eternal truth in this life, and which hungers and thirsts for Divine immortality and eternal life. If faith is what you need, there you will find it in abundance: and you will feed your soul with food which will never make it hungry. If you need love, truth, righteousness, hope, meekness, humility, repentance, prayer, or whatever virtue or podvig, in them, the Lives of the Saints, you will find a countless number of holy teachers for every podvig and will obtain grace-filled help for every virtue.” ~St. Justin Popovich

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The Saints hear our prayers and are possessed from God of the strength to help us. The whole Christian race knows this. Fr. Roman told me that when he was a boy he had to cross the river Don in the winter, and his horse fell through the ice and was just about to go under, dragging the sledge with it. He was a little boy at the time and he cried at the top of his voice, ‘St. Nicholas, help me pull the horse out!’ And he tugged at the bridle and pulled the horse and sledge out from under the ice. And when Fr. Matthew, who came from my village, was a little boy he used to graze his father’s sheep like the Prophet David. He was no bigger than a sheep himself. His elder brother was working on the other side of a large field and suddenly he saw a pack of wolves rushing at Misha—Fr. Matthew’s name in the world–and little Misha cried out, ‘St. Nicholas, help!’ and no sooner had the words left his lips than the wolves turned back and did no harm either to him or his flock. And for a long time after that the people of the village would smile and say, ‘Our Misha was terribly frightened by a pack of wolves but St. Nicholas rescued him!’ And we know of many an instance where the Saints come to our help the moment we call upon them. Thus, it is evident that all heaven hears our prayers. – St. Silouan the Athonite

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“St. Marcella and her compatriot Christian widows and young women adopted a plain manner of dress, in contrast to the sumptuous clothing their patrician status demanded. This group became known as the ‘Brown Dress Society’ in Rome. The 300-400s AD were the formation period of monasticism in the Church. Repeatedly in hagiography, women and men were noted to have shunned ‘costly array’ when they entered a celibate life, dedicated to Christ… Put your hair up and your work clothes on, because life is messy!” ~From the introduction to this wonderful new blog about the lives of women saints: https://browndressproject.com/

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Find a calendar/schedule of Orthodox Christian children’s book about saints and their corresponding feastdays here: https://www.pinterest.com/pisc304/reading-through-the-year-of-grace/

What saints’ stories do you recommend to the community?

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Here are a few resources that you may find helpful in your quest to learn about the saints.

Some of the back issues of Little Falcons magazines focus on saints. Find “Mary the Theotokos” (issue #80) and “Heroes” (issue #38) among other back issues here: http://www.littlefalcons.net/

Traveling Companions, by Christopher Moorey, is an alphabetical index of many saints of the Church. Easy to read and understand, this book can be used by adults or children, and introduces the reader to a saint for almost every day of the year (and several saints, on some days!). http://store.ancientfaith.com/traveling-companions/

Christ in His Saints, by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, showcases the lives of about 150 saints and heroes found in the Holy Scriptures. The writing style is geared towards older children and adults. http://store.ancientfaith.com/christ-in-his-saints

What other saint resources do you recommend that the rest of the community read?

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Take a few minutes each day to listen to Deacon Jerome Atherholt’s podcast about one of the saints of the day. http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/saintoftheday

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Find a series of blog posts about recent saints, beginning here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/09/23/saints-of-recent-decades-an-introduction/

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Learn the troparion to some of the saints, so that you can sing them on the day when we commemorate them. Here is a recording that could help to that end, with a few of them: http://eikona.com/great-saints-major-feasts/
And here are the words for others, for you to chant: http://www.saintromanos.com/downloads.html

What troparia are your favorites?

On Ideas for Summer Family Fun

In the northern hemisphere, it’s summer time! For many families, this means a break from our usual school year schedule. We want to provide our children with plenty of time to regroup and rest after the intensity of their studies, because they have worked very hard. We want them to learn to have some unstructured time – and perhaps even a little taste of boredom – to give them the opportunity to invent and play their own games. But we also want them to continue learning, although perhaps in a different way than they are learning during the school year. And in the midst of all of of that, we want to make fun memories together as a family.

To these ends, here is a small gathering of fun activities, learning opportunities, and ways to make this summer a little more fun. Try one or all of them, if you are so inclined! Tuck your favorite ideas into your back pocket if you’ve already got a good handle on your summer. It could be that one or more of them will come in handy at the last minute!

Regardless of how we spend the summer, may we enjoy the change in schedule and savor the additional time to be together!
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Summer is already partly spent, so you may already have a routine that works for your family. But if not, or if you want to switch things up a bit, here’s a clever way to do something fun together each day of the week during summer vacation: http://citrusandstripes.com/summer-break-schedule/

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Need ideas for preschoolers? How about some of these? https://www.notimeforflashcards.com/2014/05/50-summer-activities-for-3-year-olds.html#_a5y_p=1729695

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This page offers 30 educational, creative, and budget-friendly (not to mention fun) ideas of summer-y things to do with kids! https://prettyprovidence.com/summer-activities/

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Got water balloons? Here’s a post that offers a pile of ways to use them (besides the usual!): http://www.agirlandagluegun.com/2013/07/water-balloon-summer-fun-roundup.html

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Hot day? No problem, if you have a few squirt guns and a couple of recycled plastic cups!

https://www.thisgrandmaisfun.com/squirt-gun-races/

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If your summer is hotter than usual, this may help: here are 25 water games to play with kids! https://itsalwaysautumn.com/water-games.html

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Here are a fun list of unplugged activities for tweens!

https://frugalfun4boys.com/2013/06/30/20-activities-for-tween-age-boys/

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Want to actually enjoy crafting with your kids? Check out these awesome ideas:

www.listotic.com/29-fun-crafts-kids-adults-will-actually-enjoy/

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This article lists 100 (!) inexpensive ideas to do with kids during the summer:

http://stepmomming.com/kids-summer-activities/

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Here are some ideas of ways to help your children learn more from the Scriptures this summer! Although the blogger is not Orthodox, many of these ideas can be used to help Orthodox kids (and parents) grow together in the Faith! https://thepurposefulmom.com/2016/06/summer-bible-study-plans-ideas-kids.html

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When everyone just needs to go outside for a while, consider one of these fun activities:

https://thejoysofboys.com/outdoor-summer-activities-for-kids/

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Road trips with lego fans just got a lot more fun! Check out these suggested ideas that can be pulled together quickly before your trip: https://mamainthenow.com/lego-road-trip-activities/

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Here’s a great list of fun summer activities for teens: https://mykidstime.com/things-to-do/50-fun-activities-for-teens-to-do-in-the-summer/

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On Pursuing Virtue: Faithfulness

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/03/01/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

Fr. Thomas Hopko begins his discussion on faithfulness by reminding the reader that God is absolutely faithful. This virtue is one of His main characteristics! When the virtue of faithfulness is found in people, it is there because of the Holy Spirit. Faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit.

People who are faithful always keep their word. They are completely loyal. They stay true to their calling. No matter what happens, they steadfastly serve in truth and love. The faithful person will follow God’s will even if others do not notice or appreciate what they are doing. God sets for us the best example of faithfulness. He always makes promises and covenants and always keeps them, even when people have not kept their end of the “bargain.”

God incarnate, our Lord Jesus Christ, showed us humans how to be faithful by being perfectly faithful throughout His life on earth. He carried out his mission dutifully, and thereby accomplished all that God sent Him here to do. Our Lord taught about faithfulness in the parable of the talents. In that parable, He teaches that the truly faithful servant is the one who takes what the Lord gives and fearlessly grows it into more. That servant is the one that is commended, who has truly carried out what his Lord set forth for him to do.

The discussion on faithfulness continues by stating that to be truly spiritual is to be completely faithful in everything: not only in all of our deeds and in all of our words, but even in all of our thoughts! We need to beware of pride, covetousness, cowardice, envy, and the temptation to not humbly serve where we are, with what God has provided: all of these are enemies of faithfulness. Anytime that we think highly of ourselves, are afraid to try what God has asked us to do, wish for our neighbors’ stuff or talents, or continually seek satisfaction from the world, we grow faithLESSness in our life.

If we want to be faithful, we need to be steadfast. We must be fully committed to doing the tasks that God has set before us with whatever faith, grace, and strength He provides. Fr. Thomas says, “The only way to find joy, wisdom, and peace is to be faithful to one’s own uniqueness, knowing that each person has his own specific life and vocation from God which no one else has; his own specific mission which no one else can perform.” When we live and act in this way, we will develop faithfulness in our life, and accomplish those things which God has intended for us to accomplish with our life, for His glory!

May we all grow in the virtue of faithfulness, and thereby love God as we should!

Find Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussions of faithfulness here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/faithfulness

Here are some scriptures, quotes from saints, and quotes from Orthodox resources that can help us as we work on attaining the virtue of faithfulness in our own life:
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“Your mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.” (Ps. 36:5 NKJV)
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“O Lord God of hosts, Who is mighty like You, O Lord? Your faithfulness also surrounds You.” (Ps. 89:* NKJV)
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“My eyes shall be on the faithful of the land, That they may dwell with me; He who walks in a perfect way, He shall serve me.” (Ps. 101:6 NKJV)
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“Your faithfulness endures to all generations; You established the earth, and it abides.” (Ps. 119:90 NKJV)
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“His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.’” (Matt. 25:21 NKJV)
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“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22-23 NKJV)
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“He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.” (Luke 16:10 NKJV)
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“. . .If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Tim 2:13 NKJV)
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“God belongs to all free beings. He is the life of all, the salvation of all —faithful and unfaithful, just and unjust, pious and impious, passionate and dispassionate, monks and laymen, wise and simple, healthy and sick, young and old —just as the effusion of light, the sight of the sun, and the changes of the seasons are for all alike; ‘for there is no respect of persons with God.’” ~ St. John Climacus
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“Abraham and the patriarchs, while they had the desire to see the promised good things, and ceased not to seek the heavenly country are yet even now in the condition of hoping for that grace, ‘God having provided some better thing for us that they without us should not be made perfect’ (Heb. 11:40). If they, then, bear the delay who by faith only and by hope saw the good things ‘afar off’ and ’embraced them’ (Heb. 11:11), placing their certainty of the enjoyment of the things for which they hoped in the fact that they ‘judged Him faithful Who has promised’ (Heb. 11:11), what ought most of us to do, who have not, it may be, a hold upon the better hope from the character of our lives?” ~ St. Gregory of Nyssa
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“The Son is ‘Truth’ (Jn. 14:6), because truth is a single whole, while falsehood is a splintered complex. and because He is the unstained seal (cf. Jn. 6:27), the utterly faithful impress (cf. Heb. 1:3) of the Father. He is called ‘Image’ (Col. 1:15) because He is consubstantial with the Father; He stems from the Father and not the Father from Him, it being the nature of an image to copy the original and be called after it. But there is more to it than this. The ordinary image is a motionless copy of a moving being. Here we have a living image of a living being, indistinguishable from its original to a higher degree than Seth from Adam and any earthly offspring from its parent.” ~ St. Gregory Nazianzus
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“I pray to God to give me perseverance and to deign that I be a faithful witness to Him to the end of my life for my God.” ~ St. Patrick
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“The journey to faithfully following Christ is definitely NOT easy. And if we are not struggling, consciously wrestling daily to stay faithful, then we probably are NOT on the narrow path that leads to life.” Be encouraged in your struggle toward faithfulness by reading this encouraging homily: http://www.schwebster.org/sermons/struggling-to-stay-on-the-faithful-path
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