Gleanings from a Book: “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger

The Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education’s Staff Assistant for Social Networking, Kristina Wenger, shares some of her side of the story behind the book which she co-authored with her friend Elissa Bjeletich, as well as a few gleanings from the book itself.

It began with an invitation from an online friend, Elissa Bjeletich, who I had met in person just weeks before the invitation came. The invitation went something like this: “I’m thinking about writing a daily meditation for families for Great Lent. Will you help me?”

I was tired. The previous twelve months had drained me. They included a failed business endeavor and the ensuing financial strains; the engagement and marriage of our daughter to our wonderful son-in-law; both kids moving out of our home; 3 trips to other parts of the country to help them get settled (one of them moved twice); additional responsibilities at work to be completed in the same amount of work time; and then an extended illness over Christmas. I felt that I had nothing left to give to the world when this invitation came.

But it came, and I was a little star-struck, to be honest. I had admired Elissa’s work from afar for years, and was tickled to have actually met her in person. And then she reached out and asked me to help her? Unthinkable, and yet there it was! So I stretched through my exhaustion and considered her invitation. How could I say no? Although I was depleted, I knew this project would be good for my soul and I wanted to work with Elissa. So, empty but honored, I accepted, and then the work began.

And it was work. In one month’s time, we chose a name, pitched to Ancient Faith Radio the idea of a podcast special for families, were granted approval, created a website, and wrote and recorded the first three weeks’ worth of daily Lenten meditations. For each episode, we brainstormed together, and shared the writing (Elissa did the bulk of it, thank God: she has more writing experience than I). Early on, we decided that it would be best to offer each meditation at two levels, one for older children and one for younger ones. We each recorded a level for the podcast: Elissa did the older children’s, and I, the younger.

We wrote each meditation with the desire to care for – and encourage – growth in the garden of our own hearts, praying that somehow God would bless our efforts and allow others to grow along with us. We resonate well with St. John Chrysostom’s exhortation, “Fasting is wonderful because it tramples our sins like a dirty weed, while it cultivates and raises truth like a flower.” We hope that our writing will help readers to embrace such an attitude about fasting (and Great Lent in general), so that truth can grow and bloom in their lives.

We continued to work away at the project throughout Lent of 2018, and by the time Holy Week rolled around, we had finally finished. We went from idea to completion in 2 and a half months (Pascha was only 83 days after Elissa extended the invitation to me!). By the grace of God, we were able to write and record fifty different meditations, each at two levels, in that time.

As Pascha approached, we did not feel that the project was finished. We had grown so much throughout the experience, and we really enjoy working together. We decided to continue our work with a weekly podcast, and Ancient Faith once again accepted our proposal. The continuing podcast is aimed at whole families, and we record it together each week. You can listen in at https://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/tendingthegarden if you are so inclined.

We thought that perhaps our Lenten meditations could become a book, so we approached Ancient Faith Publishing, proposing the idea. They accepted our proposal, so we began adapting and rewriting the older children’s version in a way that would work for entire families to read and discuss together. This book is the result.

“Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” offers one meditation each day for every day of Great Lent and Holy Week, including a final meditation for Pascha. Each week is themed as follows: Forgiveness, Orthodoxy, Prayer, The Cross/Humility, The Ladder/Almsgiving, Fasting/St. Mary of Egypt, and Holy Week and Pascha. (We loosely based our themes on this calendar of lenten activities which I wrote several years ago: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/great_lent_and_holy_week_activity_calendar.pdf.) Beginning each Sunday, every day’s meditation relates in some way to the theme for the week. Some days feature a scripture and thoughts on that scripture. On other days, we learn from the life of a saint. Every meditation concludes with a few questions, then a discussion question that allows the readers to make the book their own by talking together about how to apply that day’s lesson.

The book concludes with a fairly extensive appendix of related ideas for each week’s theme. There are craft and activity suggestions that could be done every week, if the readers are so inclined. The appendix begins with suggestions of ways to count down to Pascha. These countdown ideas are intended to help solidify and mark the passage of time in a way that can help young children for whom time is rather nebulous. Following those suggestions are ideas centered around each theme. As we say in the book, some weeks the reader might want to (and have time to) do some of these things. Other times, they will not. Readers will know which (if any) of these ideas will help their family, and can use the appendix accordingly. At our website, there are a few printable pages and supplemental resources related to some of these ideas. They can be found at https://tending-the-garden.com/supplemental-resources-for-the-book-tending-the-garden-of-our-hearts-daily-lenten-meditations-for-families/.

I am so grateful to God for His mercy and strength that extends beyond our exhaustion. Perhaps it is when we are most depleted that we are best able to allow Him to work in and through our lives. Certainly it is then that we know His kindness, for He extends grace when we feel that we have nothing left to give. This book (and the project as a whole) is evidence of that, for me. The project was a lot of work, but for me personally, it has also been incredibly restorative and helpful. Glory to God!

I want to thank Elissa for inviting me on this journey with her. Together we invite you and your family to join us, and grow alongside us. It is our prayer that “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” will be a help to those families who read it throughout Great Lent.

Purchase your copy of the book here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/tending-the-garden-of-our-hearts-daily-lenten-meditations-for-families/

Here are a few gleanings from the book:

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“Have you ever prayed for someone who was mean to you? God asks us to pray for our enemies, because mean people really need our prayers to help their hearts soften so they will repent, and also because when we pray for someone we begin to see them as God sees them. We begin to love them and to feel sad for them because they are so twisted up and mean and unhappy.” (p. 36, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

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“We Orthodox love to light candles at Pascha and throughout the year. They provide light for our services, but they also remind us of the fire of God. Our God is light and truth—and He comes to us as a fire that burns away sin but does not consume us. When we light candles, we are reminded who our God is.” (p. 65, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

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“Imagine if you were to take a piece of clay and rub it in your warm hands. The clay begins hard and almost solid and impenetrable, like our hearts, but as we work it with our warm hands, the clay becomes soft and flexible. God’s warm presence does that for us; He transforms the hardness of our hearts into softness. And just like that clay, our hearts might just grow hard again if we stop praying for a while, but simply returning to prayer begins to warm us up again.” (p. 83, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

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“Sometimes we expect healing to look a certain way, but in fact what God sends is different from our expectations and much better for us. Like Naaman, when we come to the Lord for healing, if we can humble ourselves we will find that God sends both spiritual and physical healing.” (pp. 119-120, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

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“When we have become non-possessive (meaning that we have stopped caring so much about owning things), we trust completely that God will send whatever we need, as we need it. Instead of trying to own everything we will ever need and holding it tight, we turn to God. We trust that if we need something, He will send it. We pray to God for our needs, but we don’t mention them to anyone else because of our complete faith that God will send what we need. And then when someone gives us what we need, we thank God and recognize that it was really God who sent it.” (p. 145, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

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“…It is never too late. No matter what kind of life we are living, we can truly repent, and God will help us. While some saints are simply saintly from their birth, others spend years of their lives in sin and do terrible things. But God loves the sinners too, and He will help us in our struggles if we repent.” (p. 174, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

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“We don’t know when the Bridegroom will come—the Second Coming of Christ could happen today, or it may not happen for a long time. We just don’t know. But we do know that we have today. Today we can pray, today we can fast, today we can show love to the people around us, softening our hearts and building up that supply of oil. When the time comes, no one can give us soft hearts—we will have to work on our hearts now, by loving God and loving one another.” (p. 208, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

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“On this Holy Thursday, may we all think about how Jesus gives Himself to us. We are not worthy of Him, and yet He comes to live in our hearts. May He live inside of us in Holy Communion, and may we follow His example of humble service and great love.” (p. 214, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

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“Tending the Garden of Our Hearts” co-author Kristina Wenger shares three ideas of lenten countdowns which are featured in the book:

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

St. Theophan, please pray for us and for the children in our care.

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

Here are a few gleanings from the book. We found these short selections encouraging and/or challenging for parents:
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“An enemy hates an enemy not only personally, but he hates also relatives and friends of this enemy, and even his belongings, his favorite color, and in general anything that might remind one of him. So also, true zeal to please God persecutes sin in its smallest reminders or marks, for it is zealous for perfect purity. If this is not present, how much impurity can hide in the heart!” (p. 18, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

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“Christian life is not natural life. This should be the way it begins or is first aroused: as in a seed, growth is aroused when moisture and warmth penetrate to the sprout which is hidden within, and through these the all-restoring power of life comes; so also in us, the divine life is aroused when the Spirit of God penetrates

into the heart and places there the beginning of life according to the Spirit, and cleanses and gathers into one the darkened and broken features of the image of God.” (p. 20, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

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“…if you desire to begin to live in a Christian way, seek grace. The minute when grace descends and joins itself
to your will is the minute when the Christian life is born in you—powerful, firm, and greatly fruitful.” (p. 24, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

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“It goes without saying that after the baptism of the infant a very important matter stands before the parents and the sponsors: how to lead the baptized one so that when he comes to awareness he might recognize the grace-given powers within himself and accept them with a joyful desire, together with the obligations and way of life which they demand. This places one face to face with the question of Christian upbringing, or the upbringing which is in accordance with the demands of the grace of baptism and has as its aim the preservation of this grace.” (p. 30-31, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

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“…the spirit of faith and piety of the parents should be regarded as the most powerful means for the preservation, upbringing, and strengthening of the life of grace in children.” (p. 35, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

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“It is necessary that in the gaze of the parents there should be not only love, which is so natural, but also the faith that in their arms there is something more than a simple child. The parents must have the hope that He who gave them this treasure under their watch as a vessel of grace might furnish them also with sufficient means to preserve him. Finally, there should be ceaseless prayer performed in the spirit, aroused by hope according to faith.” (p. 37, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

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“Parents often speak among themselves; children overhear and almost always assimilate not only the ideas, but even turns of speech and gestures… Let parents talk with their children and explain to them either directly or, best of all, by means of stories… Or let them ask the children what they think of one thing or another, and then correct their mistakes. In a short time, by this simple means, one may communicate sound principles for judging about things, and these principles will not be erased for a long time, and may remain for life.” (pp 50-51, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

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“While accustoming a child not to do his own will, one must also train him to do good. For this, let the parents themselves furnish a fine example of good life and acquaint their children with people whose chief concerns are not pleasures and awards, but the salvation of the soul. Children love to imitate. How early they learn to copy a mother or father!” (p.53, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

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“The earlier the fear of God will be imprinted and prayer aroused, the more solid will piety be for the rest of one’s life.” (p. 55, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

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“What frost is for flowers, so is the transgression of the parents’ will for a child; he cannot look you in the eyes, he does not desire to enjoy kindnesses, he wishes to run away and be alone; but at the same time his soul becomes crude, and the child begins to grow wild. It is a good thing to dispose him ahead of time to repentance, so that without fear, with trust and with tears, he might come and say, ‘I did something wrong.’” (p. 56, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

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“The state in which we emerge out of the years of youth depends a great deal upon the state in which we enter into them. Water falling from a cliff foams and swirls below, but then it goes its quiet way in various courses. This is an image of youth, into which everyone is thrown as water into a waterfall. From it there come out two kinds of people: some shine with virtue and nobility, while others are darkened by impiety and a corrupt life.” (p. 66, “Raising Them Right,” by St. Theophan the Recluse)

 

 

On Learning from the Wisdom of the Three Holy Hierarchs

Very soon we will be celebrating the Three Holy Hierarchs: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom. Do you know why we celebrate the three of them together? If you don’t know, or need a refresher, check out the story here, and share it with your children, so that they know, as well! https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/learning-about-the-saints-the-three-holy-hierarchs-january-30/

The Three Holy Hierarchs, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. John Chrysostom are full of so much wisdom, and they each have contributed so much to the life of the Church. All three loved learning and spent their life continuing to learn not just the Scriptures and the ways of God, but secular wisdom, as well. Their love for learning helped them to become excellent teachers. As we prepare to celebrate their life of faithfulness to God, let us also ponder some of their wisdom, which, though hundreds of years old, is still applicable to modern life.

Some of these quotes will be great conversation starters for a family evening prayer time. Others are geared more towards us parents. As you read them, decide which ones would be best for your family to talk about, and find a time to share them. You may think of related scriptures, Bible stories, or saint stories to share along with the quote. Or perhaps as you discuss the quote(s), your family members will make those connections! It is truly amazing that, although these hierarchs were on earth so many years ago, their wisdom is still perfectly applicable to us and our situations! Let us learn from them!

If you or your children enjoy coloring, you may want to check out these free printable pages which can give your fingers something to do as you talk about some of the wisdom of the Holy Hierarchs: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/3-5-years-old/three-hierarchs (scroll down to find a printable page of all three together) or https://sites.google.com/view/sparks-for-orthodox-kids/coloring-pages/january (each one, individually). Also, Orthodox Pebbles has just released these wonderful printables related to the Three Holy Hierarchs: https://orthodoxpebbles.com/saints/three-hierarchs/.

Holy Hierarchs of the Church, please pray for us and for our salvation!

The quotes shared here were gathered from OrthodoxChurchQuotes.com, BrainyQuote.com, AZQuotes.com, and Goodreads.com.

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“Troubles are usually the brooms and shovels that smooth the road to a good man’s fortune; and many a man curses the rain that falls upon his head, and knows not that it brings abundance to drive away hunger.” ~ Saint Basil the Great

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“Grace is given not to them who speak [their faith] but to those who live their faith.” ~ Saint Gregory the Theologian
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“Prayer is the place of refuge for every worry, a foundation for cheerfulness, a source of constant happiness, a protection against sadness.” ~ Saint John Chrysostom

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“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.” ~ Saint Basil the Great

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“We are not made for ourselves alone. We are made for the good of all our fellow creatures.” ~ Saint Gregory the Theologian

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“In children we have a great charge committed to us. Let us bestow great care upon them, and do everything that the Evil One may not rob us of them. But now our practice is the reverse of this. We take all care indeed to have our farm in good order, and to commit it to faithful manager, we look out for it an ass-driver, and muleteer, and bailiff, and a clever accountant. But we do not look out for what is much more important, for a person to whom we may commit our son as the guardian of his morals, though this is a possession much more valuable than all others. It is for him indeed that we take such care of our estate. We take care of our possessions for our children, but of the children themselves we take no care at all. Form the soul of thy son aright, and all the rest will be added hereafter.” ~ Saint John Chrysostom

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“When you sit down to eat, pray. When you eat bread, do so thanking Him for being so generous to you. If you drink wine, be mindful of Him who has given it to you for your pleasure and as a relief in sickness. When you dress, thank Him for His kindness in providing you with clothes. When you look at the sky and the beauty of the stars, throw yourself at God’s feet and adore Him who in His wisdom has arranged things in this way. Similarly, when the sun goes down and when it rises, when you are asleep or awake, give thanks to God, who created and arranged all things for your benefit, to have you know, love and praise their Creator.” ~ Saint Basil the Great

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“Give something, however small, to the one in need. For it is not small to one who has nothing. Neither is it small to God, if we have given what we could.” ~ Saint Gregory the Theologian

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“Let everything take second place to our care of our children, our bringing them up to the discipline and instruction of the Lord. If from the beginning we teach them to love true wisdom, they will have great wealth and glory than riches can provide. If a child learns a trade, or is highly educated for a lucrative profession, all this is nothing compared to the art of detachment from riches; if you want to make your child rich, teach him this. He is truly rich who does not desire great possessions, or surround himself with wealth, but who requires nothing…” ~ Saint John Chrysostom

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“You can see that a city is prosperous by the wealth of goods for sale in the market. Land too we call prosperous if it bears rich fruit. And so also the soul may be counted prosperous if it is full of good works of every kind.” ~ Saint Basil the Great

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“Let us treasure up in our soul some of those things which are permanent…, not of those which will forsake us and be destroyed, and which only tickle our senses for a little while.” ~ Saint Gregory the Theologian

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“When we teach our children to be good, to be gentle, to be forgiving (all these are attributes of God), to be generous, to love their follow men, to regard this present age as nothing, we instill virtue in their souls, and reveal the image of God within them.” ~ Saint John Chrysostom

Learning About a Saint: St. Kendeas (Commemorated Oct. 6/19)

St. Kendeas, who lived sometime between the 7th and 10th centuries, was born in the Alemanni region (part of today’s Germany). When he was 18, he became a monk in Palestine, near the Jrdan River. He lived there in a cave, spending his days in prayer and fasting. While he was there, a rich man nearby was trying very hard to find a way to heal his possessed child. He spent a lot of his money trying to help his child. When he heard about the monks who lived by the Jordan, he took his child to one of them, named Ananaias. God told the monk Ananaias to send the child to the monk Kendeas. Kendeas prayed, and the child was healed!

After that miracle, Kendeas became known in the area. He was made the Metropolitan of Jerusalem, and served in that role for a while. He missed living as a monastic, though, so a few years later he went back to the cave to live.

Some people came to the monks to be healed, but many others came to steal things from the monks. Being robbed so often became frustrating to the monks. Eventually the monks left that area and traveled to the island of Cyprus, to live there instead. The seas were terribly rough as they traveled, and their ship broke into two pieces! But Kendeas and the others walked on the water and arrived safely at the shore. Kendeas ended up in the Paphos region of Cyprus. Another monk, his friend Jonas, went on to Salamina.

After a few years, Kendeas went to Salamina to visit his friend Jonas. Along the way, Kendeas found a cave near the village of Avgorou. He went inside the cave. He liked it so much that he promised God that he would stay there until he died. However, Kendeas was so hot that he knelt down on a rock inside the cave and prayed for water. He also prayed to see his friend Jonas. Two miracles happened because of his prayers: clear water began to pour from the rock, and a cloud full of light carried Jonas to Kendeas, to visit him! The two friends were so happy to see each other again, and they enjoyed talking together. After a while, the cloud took Jonas back to Salamina.

The people in the neighborhood saw that water was coming from the rock in the cave. They knew that there had not been water coming from there before, and they wondered about it. They asked Kendeas how it got there. When they found out that his prayers were so powerful that he could pray and have water pour out of a rock, the people began to bring sick people to him so that he could pray for them and heal them!

Kendeas lived in his cave for a long time. During the time that he lived there, there was a long stretch of time when there was no rain on Cyprus. When there’s not enough rain, we call it a “drought.” This drought on Cyprus went on for 17 years. Finally the people begged Kendeas to pray for rain. He told them all to go home! When they were home, he held his hands up in the air and began to pray for rain. Right away, clouds gathered, and it rained and rained!

Kendeas did not like to be comfortable. You might have guessed this because he chose to live in a cave instead of a house. But there was something else that he did so that he would not be too comfortable. Beginning when he was a child, Kendeas did not sleep in a bed. He slept instead on the ground.

One day when some of the people of Cyprus brought their sick family and friends to Kendeas to ask for his prayers for healing, they discovered that he had departed this life. His body was still there in his cave, and it smelled miraculously beautiful, like heavenly flowers. The people buried Kendeas right there in his cave.

A church was built in the area of his cave after he died, and a monastery, too. Today, the nuns in the monastery continue St. Kendeas’ work of caring for the sick. The water from his miracle prayer still pours out of the stone in the cave.

St. Kendeas’ miracle working did not stop when he died. He continues to pray for people, and God hears his prayers and heals them. He also often appears to people. Many people who live in the area have seen him, especially the nuns who live in the monastery. But the people who meet him are not afraid, even if they do not know who he is. He is so friendly, that if people meet him who do not know him, he just introduces himself!

St. Kendeas is celebrated on October 6/19. Holy St. Kendeas, please pray for our salvation!

Source: http://www.ayiosnektarios.co.uk/stkendeas/stkendeas.htm

Troparion to Saint Kendeas

Having hallowed through struggles the Jordan wilderness and the island of Cyprus,

You shone out upon all through remarkable battles as a fixed star.

Therefore, having seen the fullness of your wonders,

O God-bearing Kendeas, we lift our voices:

Glory to You, O Christ, through him who extols.

Glory to You through him who magnifies.

Glory to the One who through you heals illnesses for all.

Here are some related links that you may find helpful as you learn more about St. Kendeas:

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Paterikon for Kids has just released a perfectly-child-sized book about St. Kendeas. Sweetly illustrated, it tells many of the stories from his life in a way that children can easily understand. The book is written by Dr. Chrissi Hart. (This brand new book is actually the reason we are featuring St. Kendeas now, even though it is months before his commemoration date!) http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Paterikon-for-Kids-81-86-NEW/87-Paterikon-for-Kids-Saint-Kendeas/flypage-ask.tpl.html

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“Many years before I was born, in 1909, my grandmother lay on a bed under the shade of a grapevine, dying. She was just five years old. Then one day, a kind grandfather figure—a holy man, a saint—appeared to her on his white horse and miraculously changed her life forever. This event not only made my life possible, but filled it with inspiration as well.” So begins an article, “Touching Heaven Through Children of the Past and Present,”  by Dr. Chrissi Hart, author of “Under the Grapevine” and “Stories from Under the Grapevine” podcaster on Ancient Faith Radio. The “kind grandfather figure” that she mentions is St. Kendeas! Read the article here: http://ww1.antiochian.org/node/16907

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“Under the Grapevine” is a picture book by Dr. Chrissi Hart. It tells the true story of how her grandmother was healed by St. Kendeas under the grapevine at her family farm. The book is no longer in print, but is still available here: https://www.amazon.com/Under-Grapevine-Miracle-Kendeas-Cyprus/dp/1888212845

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Listen to Dr. Hart read the story of her grandmother’s healing in the first episode of her podcast “Under the Grapevine,” here: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/grapevine/readings_from_under_the_grapevine_program_1

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Read another account of a miracle through the prayers of St. Kendeas here: http://www.chrissihart.com/2010/10/saint-kendeas-feast-day-2/ Glory to God in His saints!

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See photos of the church built on the site of St. Kendeas’ cave here: http://www.chrissihart.com/photos/church-of-saint-kendeas/nggallery/page/1

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If your family studies the life of St. Kendeas, you may want to talk about whether or not anyone that you know would benefit from a visit with the saint. Let your children draw/write about the person on this printable pdf. Take some time to pray and ask St. Kendeas to pray for your friend or family member.

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Gleanings from a Book: “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle

Author’s note: Long ago I committed to reading fiction that strengthens my faith instead of dismissing it. I am fine with reading stories of people who struggle with life or with what they believe, as long as they are struggling towards God, not ignoring or shying away from Him. Because of these self-imposed limitations when it comes to reading adult-targeted fiction, I have limited my reading mostly to Christian fiction and classics. Suffice it to say that I have read a fair amount of both over the course of my five decades.

In all of my reading, I have yet to read a book like this one. “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle is Christian fiction at its best. The characters are so believable that you expect them to step right out of the book so you can marvel at the sunrise together, or share a cup of tea. Their struggles are real, as is their growth: painfully real, as is our human experience. Their story is carefully and beautifully told. This book is written as though it were already a classic.

Tuggle offers her readers a glimpse into mid-20th-century rural Pennsylvanian life, with its clash of cultures and challenges. Characters include a host of rural-minded Americans, a handful of hippies, a pair of Hungarians, a few Romanian “gypsies”, some Orthodox Christians, and more. (One character has Amish roots, but this is anything but another “Amish Christian Fiction” book: his cultural heritage is far from the focus of the book.) The characters interact with believable honesty, by turns disagreeing and misunderstanding; then accepting and helping each other as would be expected in a rural community such as theirs. (I live in Pennsylvania and married into a rural Pennsylvanian family, so I am familiar with such a community.)

Tuggle’s writing is lyrical and poetic. She refuses to spoon-feed her readers, instead inviting them to mull over the story, perhaps re-read sections, and ponder the reading. Her expertly-crafted sentences are clad in words befitting their message, saying just enough to allow the reader to find the pieces of the many puzzles in the story. Tuggle’s words spin ordinary farm life into gold, without sugar-coating the dirt.

“Lights on the Mountain” is filled with purposeful pain, glazed with moments of joy. How else could the story of a boy-becoming-a-man be genuinely told? The readers follow pensive Jess Hazel from his late boyhood through the moment when he fully embraces his adult responsibilities. Constant to his tale is the everyday glory of life on the farm. A host of colorful characters appear in different parts of his life, and not until the end of the book does the reader fully understand each one’s significance. True to life, some parts of this account leave the reader hanging until the parts come full circle, and there is beautiful completion.

This book is an interesting blend of thoughtful words, difficult subject matter, complex characters, deep faith, and simple glories. Readers will come away from reading “Lights on the Mountain” knowing that their time was well spent. I’ll warrant that many of them will read the book again, to revisit the characters and gain further insight into the puzzle pieces that they missed the first time around. I am particular with my fiction selection, and I will be among those re-readers.

By the way, according to my research, Tsura is a Romanian name. It means “light of dawn.” You’ll find that interesting when you read the book.

 

Purchase your own copy of “Lights on the Mountain” here: https://paracletepress.com/products/lights-on-the-mountain

Watch the trailer for the book here: https://youtu.be/VfCLI998hh4

 

While this book is a work of fiction, the insights that it offers will encourage you as a Christian, a spouse, and/or a parent. Here are a few gleanings from the book, to offer you a tiny taste:

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“No doubt his father was right. Clyde always was. The beam of light probably was an extraordinary reflection of the everyday sun, but did that mean it couldn’t also be more? It might also be a kind of ladder, the means for God to get down to this patch of soil Hazels had been working since old Penn first claimed these woods and set things back to the way they used to be.” (pp. 19-20, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“Now that he knew how it was a man should live, it was clear that it was no more than his lot to do so. He still grieved, still felt acutely the pain of his aloneness. But there was a great deal of solace, he found, in taking Clyde’s approach to existence. Acceptance had its own plain reward. To be sure, living in such a way, a man’s sense of wonder was muted. But so was his sense of tragedy. Jess did not pine now for the old joy or wish for knowledge beyond his ken. And except for that which he now put in himself, and that which ought to be placed (with caution) in his fellow man, he did not long for faith. He did not long at all. Or he did but did not know it. And then, while he was longing without being aware that he longed, Gracie came to him. In the cool
of an evening. Almost as if she’d been sent. As if someone knew it was not good for man to be alone.” (pp. 42-43, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“For if there was anything he knew about Gracie Morozov after three months of loving her, it was that she was serious about God. It wasn’t a thing she talked about endlessly like some religious girls Jess had known—she seemed to take her faith as a natural gift, much as she did the shine and gloss of her hair or the unusual hue of her eyes, and rarely spoke of it directly, but he would have to be a fool not to see how it affected everything she said and did.” (pp. 65-66, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“She was quiet for a minute, thinking. Then she said, ‘I haven’t met Mr. Zook. But he’s human, right? And don’t we all suffer? We all have weaknesses. Injuries. Battle scars. Sins. Even the Amish. Straw hats and horse-drawn buggies don’t buy paradise. Or else none of us would need a savior.’”(p. 102, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“It seemed to Jess that he was being humbled on purpose, as if having stood for a few brief moments before the icon of Christ, he was now somehow standing within it, viewing himself through those all-seeing eyes. And from this view it was pretty clear that he had acquired more than just his father’s so-called natural way of taking his place the world. He had also acquired his stiff-neckedness. ‘There’s a way seems right to man,’ he remembered Orville Hays saying, ‘and oft times it isn’t.’ Jess wondered then if this was to be the response to his prayer. (If indeed such silent groaning was prayer.) God, after all these years, speaking to him in voices he could recognize. Or (and this was a sorrowful thought, weighted with regret) it could be that God had been speaking all along, and Jess only could not hear because he was not with any real amount of honesty listening.” (p. 184, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“Silence is a good teacher, but most of us make poor students.” (p. 210, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***
“‘There is a prayer we make to Christ,’ Father Daniel said, his voice growing tenderer, as if he’d heard Jess’s thoughts, knew the reason for his sigh. ‘“Wound my heart with love for you.” Is that not a strange request? It’s madness! And yet, don’t we understand it, you and me? At least a little. From the moment I saw you, I said to myself, now here’s a pilgrim I recognize. A fellow wounded. He has heard tales of a singular healing salve and has been limping about the earth to find out if one truly exists. Tonight, you’ve made a discovery. Yes, this miraculous ointment does exist. And what is it? More madness! More sweet pain to be endured. More sorrow mingled with joy. It’s love.’”(p. 214, “Lights on the Mountain” by Cheryl Anne Tuggle)
***

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Piggy in Heaven” by Melinda Johnson, Illustrated by Soraya Bartolomé

“Momma, is Fido in heaven?”

“Will I get to see him again?”

“What is heaven like?”

These questions are among those that we parents encounter both within our own hearts and from our children when a beloved pet passes away. We may not have concrete answers, but we do have “Piggy in Heaven” by Melinda Johnson, illustrated by Soraya Bartolomé. This book is about a beloved guinea pig named Piggy who has passed away. The book’s readers will savor Piggy’s story as they think of their own departed pet.

“Piggy in Heaven” allows the reader to be alongside Piggy as he awakes in heaven. He meets new friends, learns about angels, and munches on the tastiest grass and daisies he’s ever eaten. Sure, he misses his cage and his pigloo, but now he can make his own nest anywhere he wants! And if he accidentally eats it, oh well: he can just go make another, wherever he’d like! Every part of heaven is safe for piggies!

During the course of the story, Piggy learns that he died, but he does not have to process this hard news alone. His arrival in heaven grants him community in two new friends, guinea pigs named Bubbleberry and Fuzzbuzz, and they are right by his side to simultaneously explain things and comfort him. They are able to describe the change from earthly life to life in heaven in a very concrete way that even Piggy can understand.

Piggy is delighted to live in this new place, but he really misses his person. She always made him feel so special. Bubbleberry and Fuzzbuzz comfort Piggy with the news that she will be coming to heaven, too! All he has to do is wait for her. While he’s waiting, though, there’s plenty to do, other piggies to meet, and so many tasty treats to enjoy!

The story line of this book is gentle in the face of the tough topic it presents. The characters are immediately loveable. (What’s not to like about a yawning, stretching piggy whose waking thoughts include how delicious the daisies in his view look; a steadfast gray piggy who gently imparts her wisdom; and a tiny black bouncing piggy who tends to yell out “wheek-wheek-wheek” at will?) The artwork in the book is charming. Bartolomé’s illustrations fit the characters to a T. Readers will wish they could jump right into the story to play with the darling piggies.

“Piggy in Heaven” extends sweet hope to young people who have lost a beloved pet. This book allows its readers the space to consider how heaven might look (at least to a guinea pig). Behind the words and pictures, it offers comfort to readers who are missing their own beloved pet. And beneath it all lies the subtle encouragement to be the best person one can be in this life in order to be better able to partake of such a beautiful place as heaven, in anticipation of all the happy reunions there!

Purchase your own copy of “Piggy in Heaven” here: https://paracletepress.com/collections/childrens/products/piggy-in-heaven

Piggy Puppets

Here are a handful of resources related to “Piggy in Heaven” that can be of help as you share the book with your children:
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Learn more about guinea pigs here: https://cavymadness.com/care/index.html

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Piggy toys

Create your own puppets (or “pocket piggies”) to go with the story “Piggy in Heaven” with this printable pattern. Follow these directions to create your puppets or pocket piggies.

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Print these paper guinea pigs to play with: https://www.thecrafttrain.com/printable-paper-guinea-pigs/

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Find some cute guinea pig drawings to print and color here: https://www.momjunction.com/articles/guinea-pig-coloring-pages-for-your-toddlers_0093423/#gref

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This secular article offers practical ideas of how to handle the death of a pet: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/pet-death.html

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This article (not Orthodox, but helpful, nonetheless) offers some support to Christian adults who are helping their children through the experience of losing a pet. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-happens-to-pets-when-they-die/

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Here are some gleanings from the book:

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woven in his image

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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Ps 139 Woven