Gleanings from a Book: “Anthony, the Great” by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka

Just because Anthony is only “four fingers old” doesn’t keep him from helping his family members to keep perspective on their challenges. However, being four has trials of its own, and being a four-year-old who is also an Orthodox Christian affords additional unique tests. But Anthony is ready to meet his challenges! He faces them well with the help of his sidekick Mikey (who happens to be a stuffed dinosaur) and of his patron saint, St. Anthony the Great.

In “Anthony, the Great”, Deacon John Sarantakis offers the tale of a young boy struggling to struggle. The book begins with Anthony reminding everyone that whatever they’re going through is not as big as a dinosaur. Readers of all ages can relate to some part of Anthony’s personality: whether to his love for dinosaurs, his desire for adventure, or his determination to be right. They will be challenged by Anthony’s longing to emulate his patron saint; even when everyone – right down to his favorite stuffed toy – does not do things exactly how he wishes they would be done. Throughout his challenges, Anthony faithfully struggles, as did his patron saint. Each time he does so, love and warmth well up in the heart of the person Anthony has blessed by his struggle. By the end of the book, Anthony discovers something BIGGER than a dinosaur, which is really something to realize!

Misha Pjawka’s watercolor, gouache, and pencil on hot pressed paper illustrations interact with the text in a beautiful dance of playfulness and color, charmingly collaborating to enhance the tale. There’s a degree of transparency to the illustrations that effectively communicates the storyline while also speaking to the state of Anthony’s soul: he clearly longs to do what is right. The book offers its readers an unclouded look at his struggle, both through the text and illustrations. (Side note: both young readers and the young at heart will especially enjoy watching Mikey throughout the book, as he wholeheartedly embraces Anthony’s experiences and adds a touch of humor with his take on them.)

The book ends with a brief overview of the life of St. Anthony. It tells some of his story, and includes his icon. There’s just enough of his story there to help the reader appreciate Anthony’s desire to emulate his patron saint, and perhaps to whet their appetite to learn more about this holy saint who is sometimes called the “father of monasticism.”

I can’t help wishing that Anthony were a real boy. I know that I would enjoy hanging out with him and Mikey, and learning how to emulate St. Anthony the Great by interacting with them. Although he is a fictional character, at least I can enter into Anthony’s life for a moment and be challenged by his struggle to struggle, every time I read “Anthony, the Great”.

 

Purchase your own copy of “Anthony, the Great” here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/anthony-the-great/

Here are a few gleanings from the book, as well as some suggestions of ways to engage your family and encourage learning through it:

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“No matter what the day may bring, Papa and Mama often take time to remind Anthony what it means to be an Orthodox Christian.” (p. 10, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Each time you read this part of the book, allow this phrase to spark a question in your own mind: How are you doing with this? Are you  regularly reminding your child(ren) what it means to be an Orthodox Christian? Perhaps every morning you pray the prayer that includes this phrase, “Whatsoever tidings I may receive during the day, teach me to accept them calmly, in the firm conviction that all eventualities fulfil Thy holy will…”, but are you teaching your children by example, and showing them how that plays out? Are you doing this especially on the days that things do not go the way that you wish or ”need” them to go? (Find the prayer in its entirety here: http://www.stgeorgeofboston.org/ourfaith/prayers/morningprayer)

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“‘We strive to love God more than anything else,’ says Mama. ‘Sometimes that means not getting or doing what we want. That can be hard. Even so, we struggle to put others before ourselves.’”  (p. 10, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Talk together about how hard it is to love God more than anything else. What choices does your family make that demonstrate this great love for God? Is it ever hard, like Mama said? Are you struggling to put others before yourselves? How is that working out? If you find yourself lacking in this area, you may want to read this article for encouragement and practical help: http://www.stgeorgegreenville.org/our-faith/tenpointprogram/putting-others-first

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“His patron saint, St. Anthony the Great, had to struggle. A lot… Anthony quietly prayed that he might be more like this great saint of God.” (p. 13, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Do your children know a lot about their patron saint? The more they know about their saint, the better they will be able to emulate them and the more likely they will feel close enough to their patron saint to ask for their prayers. Find ways to help your child(ren) learn even more about their saint. Encourage them to pray that they will become more like their saint. Here is a blog post suggesting ways to teach your children about the saints: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/teaching-your-children-about-the-saints/

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“Papa says temptations are chances to show our love for God.” (p. 16, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Multiple times each day, we pray that God will lead us not into temptation, yet we constantly find ourselves being tempted. Anthony’s statement about what his papa says can help us to wrap our minds around why we are tempted. Find some resources that will help you think about temptations (in the context of the Lord’s Prayer) here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/on-the-lords-prayer-and-lead-us-not-into-temptation/

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“…He was struggling to struggle. He wanted what he wanted when he wanted it, and he wanted to do what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it! Even so, Anthony, remembering his prayer, decided to act like his saint…” (p. 25, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Struggle is an important – and necessary – part of our Orthodox Christian life. Read what the scriptures and the Church fathers have to say about it here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2018/07/25/on-struggle/

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“‘My sweet boy, because you struggled against what you wanted, you helped your family. I’m proud of you. When we do these things, we imitate Christ’s sacrifice and love for us. A love that is bigger and greater than anything else in the world.’” ~ Anthony’s Papa (p. 27, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Invite family members to share times when they have seen another family member sacrifice themselves or their desire for someone else. How did it make them feel to see that happen? Can anyone tell about a time that they did not sacrifice themselves or their own desire, but they wish they had? How would the experience have been different, if they had done so? This article will encourage you to continue to love more and more selflessly: http://myocn.net/selfless-nature-love/

***

 

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On Pentecost and Missions

We often remember Pentecost as being the day of the descent of the Holy Spirit. We remember the tongues of fire and wonder what that experience would have been like. Perhaps we also limit the important events of that day to the room in which the Apostles were waiting as Christ had commanded them to do when he ascended into heaven. We may not think about the rest of that day, or what happened beyond the room.

Pentecost is considered to be the birthday of the Church. After all, it was on this day that the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles. That, in itself, was an event worth celebrating, but it did not just happen for the Apostles’ edification. When He descended upon the Apostles, the Holy Spirit enabled them to fulfill Christ’s command to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. We don’t always ponder that connection when we celebrate Pentecost.

So, let’s take a moment to think together about what actually happened that day. When the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, He gave them the ability to speak in other languages. And they didn’t just sit there and marvel at what had happened. Instead, they immediately put that ability to use. They left their secluded room and went right out into the world around them where many people of different languages were gathered. The Apostles began to speak to these others, sharing with them the good news about Christ. Miraculously, because of the Holy Spirit, they could speak to these strangers in their very own languages! And what happened? Acts 2 tells us that more than 3,000 people became part of the Church on that day! That’s quite a birthday celebration!

The icon of Pentecost shows the Apostles in their room, with the tongues of fire over their heads, but it also speaks to the rest of the day’s events. If you look closely at the icon, you see an old crowned man at the bottom of the icon. He is called “Cosmos” and represents the people of the world. He’s crowned to show that people rule over the world itself, but he’s in the dark to remind us of the darkness that everyone is in without Christ. Cosmos is holding 12 scrolls, representing the 12 Apostles who left the safety and blessing of the Spirit-filled upper room to carry the good news of the Gospel to all corners of the world. So, right there in the festal icon, we see this link between Pentecost and missions.

So, as we celebrate Pentecost, let us not just focus on the coming of the Holy Spirit. Yes, His descent upon the Apostles (and on us) is hugely important! We need Him just to breathe and live! But let’s also remember that Cosmos is still in the dark, whether “he” is down the hall, across the street, in another corner of our country, or another part of the world. Just like the Apostles, we must take this gift of the Holy Spirit, which we were given at baptism and Chrismation, and share the good news of the Gospel to every part of the world where we find ourselves. We don’t need to fear not being able to speak the right words: the Holy Spirit will provide (Luke 12:12), just as He did for the Apostles on Pentecost.

Let us celebrate the birthday of the Church with joy. But let us also continue to do our part to accomplish the purpose for Pentecost: that is, to fulfill Christ’s command of going into all the world and preaching the Gospel! May the holy Apostles intercede for us as we go.

Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God,

who hast revealed the fishermen as most wise

by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit:

through them Thou didst draw the world into Thy net.

O Lover of Man, Glory to Thee

(Troparion for the Feast of Pentecost).

Here are some quotes from Church fathers and leaders that will help us continue to think about Pentecost and missions, as well as some suggested further reading that may be helpful as you and your family prepare to fulfill Christ’s command:

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“The ultimate goal of the descent of the Holy Spirit is the sanctification of creation.” ~ St. Athanasius the Great

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“‘Unthinkable as it is to have a church without liturgical life, it would be even more unthinkable to have a church without missionary life.’ ~ Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, the foremost Orthodox missiologist and missionary in the world today.” http://www.schwebster.org/about-orthodoxy/our-orthodox-faith-and-the-centrality-of-missions

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What is it like to begin a mission in another part of the world? Read this article about one in Kenya, and please remember these brothers and sisters of ours in your prayers: https://www.ocmc.org/resources/view_article.aspx?ArticleId=2411

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“I don’t believe in the salvation of anyone who is not concerned with the salvation of the other.”

and

“The leader of the Church ought to care not only for the Church that has been entrusted to him by the Spirit, but also for the entire Church existing throughout the world.” ~ St. John Chrysostom

***

Study the lives of these saints who were missionaries: St. Gregory the Illuminator of Armenia, St. Nina of Georgia, St. Froumentios of Ethiopia, St. Patrick of Ireland, Sts. Cyril and Methodios among the Slavic peoples, St. Steven of Perm in the northern regions of Russia, St. Makarios Glukarov to the Altai Mountains of Siberia, St. Kosmas Aitolos among the peoples of northern Greece and Albania, St. Herman of Alaska, St. Innocent the Enlightener of America and Eastern Siberia, St. Nicholas of Japan

***

“…All Christians must understand that missions is not simply a part of our Orthodox identity, but is of the Church’s essence, it is who we are. We can never separate missions into a “nice activity” or one person’s specific calling. Missions is as central to our Church’s nature and self understanding as worship itself!” Challenge yourself by reading this and more in this article: http://www.schwebster.org/about-orthodoxy/our-orthodox-faith-and-the-centrality-of-missions

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Together as a family, you may wish to complete this “inventory” that can help you think about missions in the context of your family. How did your family come to the Faith? How is your family sharing the Faith with others? https://oca.org/yya-files/TheHub/StudyGuides/CatechicalThemes/MissionsAppealWorksheet.pdf

***

As your family searches for opportunities to obey Christ’s missionary commands, check with your priest for local opportunities. Where can you serve and share Christ’s love?

Opportunities for missions within the United States include:

Young Orthodox Christian American Mission Adventures, serving among Native Americans: http://www.yocama.com/

International Orthodox Christian Charities coordinates parishes willing to open their doors to the needy during disasters; sends volunteers and supplies to rehabilitate homes in natural disaster areas; and more, right here  in the USA: https://iocc.org/where-we-work/united-states

Opportunities for mission work outside of the USA include:

International Orthodox Christian Charities offers humanitarian relief as well as sustainable development opportunities to people of all ages, all around the world. Find out where they are at work (and where/how they need your help) here: https://iocc.org/where-we-work

Orthodox Christian Mission Center is working around the world, through both long-term and short-term missionaries, as well as a variety of mission projects. Take a look at all that they’re doing and how you can help, here: https://www.ocmc.org/

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If your family is unable to go on any missions assignment at the moment, you can still support missions. Here are 25 creative ways to do so: https://iocc.org/ways-to-give/25-ways-give

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Gleanings from a Book: A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short, by Creative Orthodox


There are very few Orthodox Christian graphic novels. Presumably this is due to the fact that it takes so much time and energy to create one, especially if one wishes to accurately share the life of a saint. St. John the Short was no ordinary person, and therefore this is no ordinary graphic novel. I am grateful that Creative Orthodox* spent so many years researching St. John’s life and painstakingly creating this book. Presenting the story of St. John the Short through the use of this storytelling medium makes his story accessible to people of so many different ages. Young and old alike will enjoy this book and learn so much about (and from!) St. John’s life. As they read, they will be strengthened in their faith. This graphic novel effectively brings to life St. John the Short’s wisdom and insights.

“A Forest in the Desert” shares the life of St. John the Short. It begins with his first youthful attempt to go into the desert and become a monk, follows through his actual monastic calling, and continues all the way through his monastic life. The book offers a glimpse into monastic life as it was in his lifetime. The stories about St. John are intertwined with glimpses into his wisdom, expressed here in his own words. There are also accounts of miracles which God wrought through him, including the healing of a leper and that of a demon-possessed woman; an amazing encounter with the three Hebrew youths from the fiery furnace in Babylon; and more.

The book closes with an epilogue which allows the reader further insights into some of the saints mentioned in St. John’s story. There follow pages of interesting notes, with additional details about some of the events and/or illustrations on previous pages. Each note is clearly labeled with its corresponding page number and adds depth to the book as a whole. Following the notes are illustrations of several of St. John’s sayings.

Creative Orthodox has beautifully utilized the medium of the graphic novel, finding just the right words while also knowing when it is better to communicate with an illustration instead. Many times the drawings say more than words could, thus communicating ideas and events in a way that is easily (and quickly!) understandable. The drawings, done with pen and ink, are simple enough to appreciate at a glance, but detailed enough to convey what they are meant to illustrate. And, while they are not icons, the illustrations (and this book as a whole) point the reader to Christ through the life of this wonderful saint, St. John the Short.

I am truly grateful that Creative Orthodox was kind enough to share the ebook version of this extraordinary graphic novel so that I could read it and share it with you. I have already read it more than once, and have gleaned more from the life of this inspiring saint with each reading.


*Note: Michael Elgamal created “Creative Orthodox” so that his work would not be about him. Follow Creative Orthodox’s work through the social media links found here: https://creativeorthodox.com/

Order your copy of this graphic novel here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/creativeorthodox/shop/

Here are a few gleanings from the book:

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“When it comes to the lives of the Fathers, it’s not the exact dates or details that benefit us the most, it’s their character and virtues that give us an example to follow in our own lives. St. John the Short is a prime example in obedience…It’s his compassion and love for Christ and God’s creation that never cease to amaze me. He served his community, loved everyone unconditionally, and took good care of his spiritual children.” (Preface, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

***

“…whatever you do when pursuing asceticism, do for the love of Christ. We don’t live in asceticism only because it helps us overcome the passions. We do it because we love God. Everything we do: psalmody, vigils, seclusion, sleeping on the ground, and any ascetic practice are sacrifices we offer up to God. it is our way of expressing our love for Christ and offering up our own bodies as sweet incense…” (Abba Amoin, explaining the reason for monastic practices to St. John the Short, p. 44, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

***

“One day, the Elder Amoi was inspired. He took a piece of dry wood and called John. He asked him to fill a bucket with water and follow. They walked for hours… Abba Amoi planted the stick firmly into the ground. ‘I want you to walk to the well daily, fill up a bucket with water, and come here to water the stick.’ …John understood that watering a dry stick wouldn’t bring it to life, but he quietly obeyed out of love for his abba. And this was how John’s biggest trial started. It wasn’t a one-time test of endurance. It was a daily test of love, perseverance, and obedience… John continued to water the stick every single day for three consecutive years. And the stick into a beautiful tree. Abba Amoi took the fruit of the tree, gathered the monks, and gave it to the elders, saying, ‘Take, eat from the fruit of obedience.’” (pp. 65-70, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

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“The foundation of our house is our brother. If I guard the foundation, we will build our house and crown it with a roof.” ~ St. John the Short (p. 102, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

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“…you frequently find yourselves asking, ‘Why do we fast so often?’ I’ll tell you why. When a king seeks to conquer a city, he surrounds the city walls and blocks access to its water well, spoiling the city’s food supplies. The defending city will soon give in to hunger and thirst and will fall to the attacking army. This is exactly like fasting. When you abstain from eating, you control yourself and guard your soul to rule over evil.” ~ St. John the Short (p. 126, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

***

“The saints of God are like trees. Their lives start with seeds sown by Christ that grow with guidance and attention to eternal life into beautiful trees, that form a garden of goodness. Each one is very much alive and continually gives fruit.” (from the Epilogue, p. 169, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

***

“My thoughts with my mind are in heaven, but my meditation is buried in the dust below every creature… Know this, that among all the duties of perfection none are higher than humility and obedience to God and the holy fathers. This is what makes the soul shine with the Lord’s light.” ~ St. John the Short (p. 179, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

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A Handful of Spring Memory-makers for Families

For many families in our community, we are deep into the season of spring, that special time of year when things are growing, budding, green, and flowering. We have gathered a few fun spring family activities to share. It is our hope that you will find an activity or two that will help your family to create a happy memory in these final weeks of spring. Here are some of the ideas that we found:

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Be mutually encouraged and grow your faith together as a family with these spring faith-building ideas:  https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/on-celebrating-new-life-in-springtime/
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Whether or not your family has “kindness elves” to help encourage you to act in kind ways, the spring ideas posted here are a lovely way to step out into the spring air and do something that will be helpful to someone else. Print the free “leaves” with kindness suggestions on them, cut them out, and keep a bowl of them ready for reading/doing. If you don’t have “kindness elves”, you can still use the leaves: pull one from the bowl each day, do what it suggests, and add that leaf to an empty grapevine “kindness wreath.” By the time you get to the end of spring, your wreath will be green and your hearts will be happy! https://theimaginationtree.com/25-spring-acts-kindness-ideas-kids-free-printable/

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Just for fun, check out this “spring bucket list” things to see how many of these would be fun to add to a  list of your own: https://www.sunnydayfamily.com/2017/04/spring-bucket-list.html
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There’s a printable spring scavenger hunt for young children and their family here: https://thepurposefulnest.com/spring-scavenger-hunt-printable/

The spring scavenger hunt is just one of the fun family ideas found here: https://spitupandsitups.com/21-spring-family-activities/

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If your young children enjoy crafts, here are some with a spring theme: https://www.hikendip.com/spring-crafts-for-kids-toddlers-preschoolers/

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Recycle plastic eggs for this spring-themed movement game! https://www.creativelittleexplorers.com/spring-movement-game-using-plastic-eggs-free-printable-action-cards/

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Rainy spring day? No problem! Check out these printable pages:

I spy (at three different levels of difficulty): https://www.poolnoodlesandpixiedust.com/spring-i-spy-coloring-pages/

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If you have toddlers, you’ll want to check out the fun ideas and crafts here: https://www.craftsonsea.co.uk/spring-activities-for-toddlers/

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The sidewalk chalk games and nature art suggested here could happen in almost any season. They look like fun! https://thepinterestedparent.com/2016/09/sidewalk-chalk-games/

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These spring-themed art projects are beautiful! https://creativefamilyfun.net/beautiful-spring-art-projects-for-kids/

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What better time than spring to make your own kites? You can fly them for months to come! https://www.aboutamom.com/how-to-make-a-kite/

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Here are some fun spring-themed activities to do with tweens: https://www.kitchencounterchronicle.com/10-activities-to-do-with-tweens-over-spring-break/

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How fun would it be to host a neighborhood field day? Here are some game ideas: https://ourfamilylifestyle.com/outdoor-field-day-games-for-kids/

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail

Note: This book sat on my shelf for several weeks, waiting until I had time to read and review it. Despite the delay, it turns out that the timing is perfect. Here we are, right in the midst of the Paschal season, and the book is full of references to the Resurrection of Christ. And it should be so! For how else can we, Christ’s followers, better celebrate His Resurrection than by responding with joy? If we truly know and believe what He has accomplished for us, our “light and momentary troubles” – yes, even the impossible ones we may be facing at this very moment – pale in comparison to His victory. St. John Chrysostom’s homily which we all just heard at Pascha says, “Christ is risen! And the angels rejoice!” My brothers and sisters, let us join with the angels!

Phoebe Farag Mikhail’s book “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” is a balm for the disheartened soul. The author has found a way to simultaneously calm, soothe, and reassure the reader while also challenging them to live in an attitude of godly joy. Readers will step away from the book knowing what they need to do, with tools at the ready to assist them as they pursue true joy.

The book begins with an invitation section which answers the question, “What is joy?;” then offers insights into who/what steals joy from our life. The (much larger) second section of the book introduces seven joyful practices. These seven practices which the author offers as means to the pursuit of joy include: praying the hours; visiting the sick; repenting; giving thanks; offering hospitality; praying arrow prayers; and singing praises to God. Each practice is expounded via stories (both from the author’s experience and from others), scriptures, quotes from Church fathers, contemporary writings, scientific findings (as appropriate), and more. The book closes with an appropriate epilogue, casting the joy-filled light of the resurrection on a modern story of martyrdom which to the world seems to be only a tragedy.

The author admits that it took her five years to write this book from beginning to end. This was not because she had to search for so long to find all the right quotes or because she only has to write in the few moments left here and there to a wife/mother (who also happens to be a Coptic priest’s wife). Rather, she took five years to write the book because, at one point as she was writing, she found herself not practicing joy. She wanted the book to be genuine, tested, lived, so she set the writing aside and worked on her heart. It is my opinion that it was worth her wait. The text is a smooth blend of stories, practical advice, and wisdom founded on the strong base of Scripture and the wisdom of the Church fathers.

Although the author is a Coptic Orthodox Christian, this book is written in such a way that any reader who wants to live a more joyful Christian life will benefit greatly from having read the book. The references to Christian practices exercised in Ms. Mihail’s Church may differ from some other expressions of Christianity, but the ideas behind them are helpful to any follower of Christ. “Putting Joy into Practice” helps its readers to find practical ways to live out St. Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians (and to us): “Rejoice always… for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thess. 5:16, 18)

If you are generally a joyful person, read this book. It will give you reasons to continue choosing joy, as well as  tools to boost your not-so-joyful days. If you are a complainer and grouch, say a prayer and then read this book, but prepare to change your attitude. Ms. Mikhail’s challenge is difficult to dodge, because the scriptures and Church fathers are pretty straightforward. Regardless of the attitude of their heart at the beginning of the book, readers will step away from it with a smile on their face and – better yet – with joy in their heart.

Purchase your own copy of “Putting Joy into Practice” here: https://paracletepress.com/products/putting-joy-into-practice

Find additional writings by author Phoebe Farag Mikhail at her website, http://beingincommunity.com/.

 

Here are a few gleanings from this book:

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“Why is living in joy so hard? What can we do to live in the joy of the Resurrection when there are so many ways our joy can be stolen? As I pondered these questions, they led me on a path of trying to learn why joy is so hard, but more importantly, to learn how to live in joy, how to protect it from the thieves that strive to steal it, and how to share it with others.” (p. 8, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

***

“We might not be happy every day; in fact, we might face suffering every day. But we can have joy every day. Running after joy is akin to holding a cup upside down. Joy is there, waiting to be given, but it doesn’t enter in. Rather than running after joy the way we might seek after pleasures or happy circumstances, we must instead rest and reorient ourselves into a posture of receiving, not running. The practices I share here are meant to help us reorient ourselves, to turn our cup right side up so that joy enters, and we exclaim, in the words of the psalmist, ‘My cup runs over’ (Psalm 23:5).” (pp. 15-16, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

***

“Joy thieves can be just like the little animals that steal tomatoes from the garden. On the outside, they can be small, cute, and furry, even comforting, and yet somehow they can still manage to steal our joy. The early church fathers called them ‘the passions.’ In this context, passions are not to be completely confused with our modern use of the word to describe a positive, driven desire to do something good or meaningful. Nor are they to be confused with the ‘passion of Christ,’ which is related to the Latin word for suffering and endurance. Rather, these passions are extreme versions of human behavior that lead to sin.” (p. 22, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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“Praying the Hours helps us, even in the bustle of our days, to stand in God’s presence and feel this ‘fullness of joy.’ The Hours are not just for ascetics, then, but even for busy, distracted laypeople, an anchor to pull us away from the storms of life into God’s presence and the presence of the entire community of believers. The moment I pick up my prayer book to pray, someone else is praying the same prayer, someone else has prayed another prayer a few moments before me, and others will be praying when I stop. In this way, when I pray the Psalms, I become part of an eternal chorus, even if it seems like I am praying alone. ‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’ (Matthew 18:20)” (p. 37, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

***

“The common thread running through these experiences is that visiting the sick is not about finding the right words to say, giving a sermon, or asking intrusive questions. A visit to the sick that brings the joy of the Holy Spirit is a visit that provides giving, listening, and connection. Bring bright flowers, a gift, a meal, or your hands and feet to serve when needed or asked. Bring listening ears and the ability to be silent when necessary. Bring a smile, a song to sing, or a story to tell. Bring a piece of art or craft you have made—-or bring supplies to create something together. Be joy, and expect the experience the joy of visiting Christ himself. Christ certainly needs no sermons from us.” (p. 61, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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“Repentance makes room for joy within us, room that was previously filled with sin, shame, and fear. When we repent by turning our lives around like the prodigal son and the Samaritan woman, we experience its joy, and it is contagious. The heavens rejoice. The church rejoices. We cannot help sharing that joy with others, so they too might encounter Christ. Putting joy into practice means practicing repentance, even on a daily basis.” (p. 76, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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“I am learning… that when I thank God ‘in any condition, in every condition, and in whatever condition,’ I might not be asking God to take me out of a condition of suffering, or even to see a silver lining around that suffering. Rather, I am thanking him in that condition of suffering, and sometimes I might even thank him for that suffering… Thanking God for suffering is… acknowledging that perhaps that suffering can serve a greater purpose.” (p. 85, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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“Sometimes discovering who needs hospitality is a matter of taking a few moments to sit outside, linger on your front porch, or say hello to the neighbor living on the same floor in your apartment building. We might feel overwhelmed by great needs of the world presented to us on the news, but it is our simple acts of hospitality that will change the world, not our worries.” (p. 122, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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“These days, when we find ourselves waiting, we fill the time by looking at our smartphones, checking our social media feeds or our emails, making every moment a constant input of information—often information we cannot control or tasks we cannot take action on while in line or sitting in traffic. This can add to our general sense of stress and lack of control… Using arrow prayers can help us reclaim control of our time and energy. Information overload drains us, but prayer fills us.” (pp. 127-128, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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Need to learn a few “arrow” prayers? Here are some of the arrow prayers found on pp. 136 -137 of “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail. You may wish to print them onto cardstock, cut them apart, and glue to decorative paper or a blank index card (which you can decorate if you’re so inclined). Place these prayers around the house, in your purse or briefcase, even in the car so that you remember to pray.

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“The joy of the Lord’s presence starts in the fiery furnace, not outside it… We begin the hymn [of the three saintly youths in the fiery furnace] with an exhortation to the youth in the fire to sing to the Son of God who is there with them in their suffering—and therefore also in their joy. This exhortation applies to us as well. We don’t wait to praise God until after we are saved from the furnace, when our prayers are answered the way we hope they will be. We praise him even in our troubles, acknowledging and confessing that he is there with us in those troubles. When we can wipe away from our eyes the smoke of our problems and praise him, we see him in his glory there—and this is powerful. This is joy.” (p. 146, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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“My hope is that, by drawing from examples of how my church helps us live in the joy of the Resurrection, this book might open your eyes to the ways your tradition helps you practice joy. Once you begin to see it, whether you are in a happy situation or in great pain, it is all joy.” (p. 163, “Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church” by Phoebe Farag Mikhail)

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Gleanings from a Book: “Spyridon’s Shoes” by Christine Rogers

Christine Rogers’ new book, “Spyridon’s Shoes” is a comfortable fit for its readers. The language is simple enough for mid-elementary-level readers to read on their own. The story line is intriguing, though, and will capture the attention of younger or older children as well as the adults who read this book.

Young Spyros’ family is hard-working, but nonetheless they experience one hardship after another. The book tells the story of how Spyros (a nickname for Spyridon) and his family face each of their struggles with faith. It also reveals the ways in which God chooses to send help.

The grandfatherly man who arrives and helps Spyros when he badly cuts his foot early in the story is, interestingly enough, also named Spyridon. Spyros offers to call the grandfather “Abba” and the man accepts that nickname. After the first meeting, Abba continues to show up in Spyros’ life, helping him as needed and inspiring him to do what is right. It takes the reader almost the entirety of the book to realize that “Abba” is actually Saint Spyridon himself, appearing to and physically assisting his young namesake who truly needs his help.

Although “Spyridon’s Shoes” is a work of fiction, it is a highly believable and delightful read. This book very naturally shares much of the wisdom of St. Spyridon, challenging readers to growth in their own Christian walk, without the reader feeling at all that they are being preached at by anyone. It incorporates some true stories of ways in which God has used St. Spyridon in the lives of those who have asked for (and received) his help. The book offers a glimpse into the saint’s real life on earth, within the context of a fictitious story.

Besides the story itself, there are a few extras that make this book so helpful to its readers. Vladimir Ilievski’s cover and occasional illustrations throughout the book are true to the story, giving readers a face for each Spyridon, while also bringing to life the setting on Corfu. The pages about St. Spyridon himself, found near the end of the book, help readers to learn even more about this wonderful saint. His troparion and icon are at the end of the book, for those who wish to ask for his prayers and see his icon.

This book is an enjoyable read for young and old alike. Children will resonate with Spyros and love his story so much that they will slip back into it, re-reading the book from time to time. Just like St. Spyridon’s shoes, this book will be well-worn by the families and libraries who own it. Here’s hoping that Christine Rogers keeps writing books like this!

 

Purchase your own copy of “Spyridon’s Shoes” (available in paperback or ebook) here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/spyridons-shoes/

Here are a few gleanings from the book (mostly quotes from “Abba”/St. Spyridon, so as not to give away any of the story line), as well as a handful of resources that can help your family learn more about St. Spyridon and his miracles:

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“Spyros sat down, and the old man took his foot again. He tore a piece of fabric from the bottom of his cassock and used it to gently dry and wrap Spyros’ injury. He then took one of his own shoes and eased it over the bulky bandage.” (p. 22, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)

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“‘Pray in the little things, pray in the big things. Leave everything to Him.’ Abba lifted his hand and showed Spyros the rope he was holding. ‘This is a prayer rope… For each knot on the prayer rope, say a prayer. Even the simplest prayer works great good in our hearts.’” (pp. 34-35, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)

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(Spyros is talking to his friend Niko about Abba here:) “‘…when he talks about God, he does it in a way that makes me want to listen instead of staring out a window at church, just waiting for liturgy to be over.’ He looked at his friend. ‘I know it is strange, but I still hope that you can meet him. And then he will say to you the same thing he always says to me— “Until we meet again, may God bless you.’”’ (pp. 50-51, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)

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“‘It is good to have goals and to make plans, Spyros,’ Abba said, ‘but you must remember to give all those plans and goals to God in heaven. Ask for His blessings and mercy before you begin any task.’” (p. 57, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)

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“‘Saint Spyridon is the patron saint of our island,’ his father replied. ‘Many times he has saved the people here from invasion and enemies. Once,there was a great famine, and no one had any food to eat. By the prayers of Saint Spyridon, a storm blew a ship off course, and the ship was full of grain. It landed here on Corfu, and the people were saved from starvation.’” (p. 79, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)

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“Spyros reached his hand out to touch the icon on top of the reliquary. Father Theodore continued to speak. ‘Saint Spyridon is famous for his miracles and for appearing to people in need. He walks about so much helping people that he wears out his shoes. In fact, every year, we open his reliquary and give him new ones.’”(p. 84, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)

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St. Spyridon was present at the first ecumenical council. At that council, he used a brick to demonstrate the unity of the Trinity. He held the brick in his hand and then squeezed it. Miraculously, fire shot up from it, water dripped out of it onto the ground, and then all that was left in his hand was dust. “There was only one brick,” Saint Spyridon said, “but it was composed of three elements. In the Holy Trinity there are three Persons, but only one God.” Read this and more about the life of St. Spyridon, including many miracles worked in his lifetime, here: https://oca.org/saints/lives/2000/12/12/103526-st-spyridon-the-wonderworker-and-bishop-of-tremithus

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Listen to the accounts of several miracles of St. Spyridon, recounted by Fr. Peter Shapiro, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9iWjfYTzBM

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After reading “Spyridon’s Shoes” by Christine Rogers, your family may want to pray the Akathist to St. Spyridon. Find it, as well as an after prayer, here: https://akathisttostspyridon.wordpress.com/

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Gleanings from a Book: “A Child’s Guide to Confession” by Ancient Faith Publishing, Illustrated by Nicholas Malara

Ancient Faith Publishing’s editors have compiled and created a beautifully illustrated guide that will help children to prepare their hearts for confession. “A Child’s Guide to Confession” is full of helpful information and questions as well as beautiful illustrations. Here is a brief overview of the book, followed by a few gleanings from its pages.

Don’t let the child-friendly size fool you: it may be small, but this little book is gold. Its engaging illustrations paired with text which gently nudges readers towards repentance make each of its 104 pages invaluable. The book is divided into color-coded sections including a welcome; what confession is; preparing for confession; self-examination; prayers and scriptures to read while waiting for confession; a prayer after confession; a note for parents; and an extensive glossary explaining difficult terms found elsewhere in the book.

The book acknowledges that there are many ways to prepare for confession. The editors decided to focus on 1 Corinthians 13 for this book. God is Love, so it follows that Orthodox Christians prepare for confession by looking at their actions in light of love to see how they measure up, discover where they have fallen short, then repent and confess those shortfalls. Each phrase of the scripture is appropriately illustrated and is followed by a number of child-friendly questions related to the phrase.

Throughout the book, Nicholas Malara’s illustrations offer glimpses into the lives of Orthodox children who are interacting with the Church and their world. The illustrations make the book more accessible to young children, and more delightful for older children. They truly bring Orthodoxy to life for a child (and a few even include a subtle touch of humor that will make the reader smile!).

This book is a must-have for any Orthodox Christian family. It will help children to embrace confession, and walk them through the entire process, from beginning to prepare for confession all the way to the rejoicing that follows. Children of all ages (parents included!) will benefit from preparing their hearts for confession with this little gem.

Contributors to the project include Elissa Bjeletich, Fr. Noah Bushelli, Fr. Nicholas Speier, and Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick.

 

Purchase your own copy of the book here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/a-childs-guide-to-confession/

Here are a few gleanings from the book, as well as a few additional resources to help you help your children to prepare for confession :

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“When preparing for confession, find a peaceful place where you can sit and pray and think. If it helps, have a pencil and some paper handy to help you remember what you’d like to confess to your priest. Always start by asking the Holy Spirit to help you…” (p. 15, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“You will be speaking to God directly, reminding Him that you believe in Him, that you are one of His disciples, and you will be saying sorry for the things you have done that have created distance between you…” (p. 19, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“Love is kind.
Have I hurt a person or an animal on purpose?

…Have I been caring when someone gets hurt?

Have I ignored someone who needed help?” (p. 25, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“A Prayer from St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain

O Jesus, the most-good goodness

I have done no good before You;

But grant that I may make a beginning because of Your goodness.” (p. 48, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“Now you are at church, waiting your turn to speak with the priest and offer your confession. While you wait, read thoughtfully through a selection of these prayers or Bible verses to help soften your heart…” (p. 51, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“Dear Child of God,

You did it! The distance that came between you and Christ is now erased. All of the beauty and light and goodness that is beaming out of Him is beaming out of you too! For He is filling you with His powerful light…” (p. 73, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“Preparation for confession is best founded in daily watchfulness and open discussion at family gathering times of meals, prayer, and spiritual study…” (from the Note to Parents, p. 85, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“Let us not be helicopter parents. While we need to pray and arrange for our children’s best interests, we also need to honor their own freedom, relationship with God, and spiritual development… Praying for our children is the best way of keeping them in God’s will.” (from the Note to Parents, p. 85, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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“Absolution – the removing of sins through the act of confession. When your sins are absolved, they are wiped clean, and the separation between you and God has been erased!” (from the Glossary of Terms, p. 89, “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, by Ancient Faith Publishing)

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Perhaps your child/children will benefit from using this printable as they prepare for confession. The printable provides space for them to draw or lines to write notes of what they are ready to confess. They can keep it with them as they read through “A Child’s Guide to Confession”, making notes as they go along, then take it along when they go for their next confession.

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To better help your child(ren) with repentance, you may want to have some of the information and ideas found here: http://ww1.antiochian.org/christianeducation/childrenandrepentance

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You may find this article helpful as you help your child(ren) to prepare for confession: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/helping-your-child-prepare-for-confession/

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