Preparing to Begin Great Lent

Great Lent is coming soon! Every year, Great Lent is a joyful time of opening our hearts more fully to Christ, as we prepare to celebrate His resurrection. It offers us a wonderful opportunity to evaluate our Christian life and begin to implement changes that enable us to better love God and our fellow humans. We have gathered a handful of resources that may be helpful to you and the children in your care. Here are some of the resources that we have gathered, beginning with part of a helpful article by Ann Marie Gidus-Mercera, called “Ways to Share Great Lent and Pascha with Your Child,” from Orthodox Family Life, printed in 1997. (Used by permission.)

Take your child to Church!

Whenever a service is scheduled, plan to attend. Services like The Canon of St. Andrew of Crete may be physically tiring with the many prostrations, but don’t think your child can’t be a part of them. In my own parish, which is filled with pre-schoolers, the children do a great job of making prostrations right along with the adults. Many of the children will join in as “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me” is sung. This experience is good for our children! If they see their parents attending services, they get the message that attending Church is important. If we bring our children to Church with us (both young and old), they get the message that their presence in Church is important. The Canon of St. Andrew of Crete is especially good for teaching our children that we worship with our entire bodies.

Explain the service that your family will be attending.

Notice that the word “family” is used in the first sentence. Now is a good time to stress that the entire family should be attending services. My husband can’t make it home from work in time for all of us to get to services together, but he always meets us at Church. This tells our children that Church is important enough for Daddy to meet us there. As children get older, homework and after-school activities may tempt them (and us!) to skip Church services. Don’t let it! First of all, if we give in, then what we’re really telling them is that worldly affairs are more important than spiritual affairs. By allowing our children to miss Church, we make it extremely easy for them to fall away as teenagers or young adults.

Last of all, if we allow our older children to miss Church, we are telling our younger children that Church is not important when they get to be big sister or big brother’s age. Enforcing Church attendance by the entire family is no easy task. In fact, enforcing it may be one of the hardest jobs you encounter. Sticking to your rule will be even tougher. It’s a choice we must make as Orthodox parents. Maybe it makes our task easier if we ask ourselves, “What would God want us to do?” The answer is obvious.

Prepare your child for Lent.

The weeks prior to Lent help us take on the right frame of mind for entering Lent. Let them do the same for your child. Read the stories and let your child color [or draw] the pictures prior to attending the Sunday services. You may want to read the story again on Saturday evening, or let your child take the color sheet to Church. A simple reminder Sunday morning concerning what the service and gospel reading will contain can be enough. Pre-schoolers have the ability to remember even the briefest of comments (even when it’s something we DON’T want them to remember!) Keep your explanation simple and BRIEF in order to hold his/her attention. Don’t try to go into a long and draw-out explanation or s/he will lose interest. If s/he has questions or comments, answer them briefly.

Don’t feel mountains have to be moved the day Lent begins, or even during Lent.

It might be a quiet, even uneventful day. That’s okay! Nothing magical needs to happen. We must only be ready to give our hearts to Christ, and we should gladly hand them over in an effort to be a good example to our children. This is our greatest task as Orthodox Christian parents.

Here are some additional resources that you may find helpful: 

Here is a printable Lenten-focused activity calendar, highlighting important days during Great Lent. This pdf features daily suggestions of activities that families can do together, with the goal of engendering a more Christ-centered life during the Lenten fast. Find the calendar here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.files.wordpress.com/2023/02/updated_great-lent-and-holy-week-activity-calendar.pdf

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Find lessons and activity ideas that can be helpful for families or Church school teachers during all of Great Lent here: https://orthodoxpebbles.com/orthodox-basics/great-lent/

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With this free printable page, children can create a “Lenten Treasure Chest” that they can fill throughout Great Lent with “coins” of REAL value: https://moam.info/lenten-treasure-chest-annunciation-greek-orthodox-church_59cdc1d31723ddf9655ed9fe.html 

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This blog offers ideas of ways to encourage children to participate throughout Great Lent: http://illumination-learning.com/main/2015/02/14/living-our-faith-its-too-hard-for-my-kids/.

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If you are interested in additional fasting meal suggestions, here are two links that may be helpful:

https://orthodoxfastingrecipes.wordpress.com/

https://www.orthodoxmom.com/orthodox-kitchen/

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Here is another creative way that a family can experience Lent together (including fasting, attending services, and giving to those in need). This easily explains and tracks the lenten journey on the family fridge: http://ww1.antiochian.org/content/family-activities-lenten-journey 

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Here is a printable coloring and activity book for the Sundays of Lent and Holy Week: https://www.scribd.com/doc/49025598/Lent-Workbook-English-2

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Love at Lent offers 50 daily task cards that each reinforce the Lenten values of kindness, forgiveness, prayer, generosity, gratitude, and love. Children or families can select one card each day of Great Lent and Holy Week, and then do the task that will help them to better love God and their neighbors. https://store.ancientfaith.com/love-at-lent/ 

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Find 40 activities (one for each day of Great Lent) here: http://ww1.antiochian.org/40-activities-great-lent

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This offers an overview of each Sunday of Lent, complete with the message of the week and suggested activities: https://www.scribd.com/doc/48101187/Lent-HolyWeek-Chart

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Here is an overview of Lenten Sundays and Holy Week, with suggested steps of action, specifically geared for teens: http://www.antiochian.org/content/lenten-message-all-orthodox-teens

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Need more ideas? Check out this blog post filled with additional Lenten resources for families and Church school teachers: https://www.asceticlifeofmotherhood.com/blog/lentguide 

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A Glimpse at “Lives of the Saints for Children: February: Friends of Christ” written by Demetrios and Anna Fotopoulos and illustrated by Paraskevi Hatzithanasi

Newrome Press is publishing a twelve-book series called Friends of Christ. Each volume contains the stories of five saints who are commemorated during a particular month of the year. Here is a closer look at Lives of the Saints for Children: February: Friends of Christ, written by Demetrios and Anna Fotopoulos and illustrated by Paraskevi Hatzithanasi, translated by Nicholas Palis, and printed in 2019.

The February edition of the Friends of Christ series tells its readers stories from the life of St. Nikiphoros the martyr (Feb. 9), St. Haralambos the hieromartyr (Feb. 10), St. Theodora the empress (Feb. 11), Venerable Philothei the Athenian (Feb. 19), and Great Martyr Photini the Samaritan woman (Feb. 26). Readers will learn more about the faithful life of each of these saints, and feel encouraged to grow in their own faith. The saints’ stories are carefully worded so that children of all ages can understand. Each has been translated very smoothly into English by translator Nicholas Palis.

The bulk of the book features the stories of these five saints (and the others whose lives they influenced). The book effectively meets this purpose, but it also offers some extra “bonus” materials that are helpful. In addition to the saints’ stories, it also offers a handful of other important resources. The book begins and ends with helpful prayers (the morning prayer to one’s patron saint, and the evening one); and it also contains “the Friends of Christ Glossary”, where some of the more challenging words in the text are explained. In addition, it comes with a large decal featuring one of the illustrations, that could be added to a timeline if the family or Church school room has one on their wall. The decal also makes a wonderful bookmark to mark the reader’s place in each story.

Paraskevi Hatzithanasi’s sketches add much to the stories in the book. They seem to draw from iconographic representations, enhancing the text while also familiarizing readers with the saint(s) in such a way that they will easily recognize the saint’s icon, when they find it at church or elsewhere. Illustrative details from each major illustration are scattered throughout that saint’s story, and offer a fun little challenge: that of finding where each detail is located in its original illustration.

This well-made hardcover book will last through many February readings, whether in a home or in a Church school. Each saint’s story could be read all at once (perhaps for a family night, or in a Sunday Church school class); or bit by bit, across a series of days, until it is completed. 

Order your own copy of Lives of the Saints for Children: February: Friends of Christ from Newrome Press, here: https://newromepress.com/friends-of-christ-february/

We thank Newrome Press for sharing this book with us, so that we can share it with you

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts.

A Glimpse at “God’s Saintly Friends, Vol. 2” by Kathryn Reetzke

Park End Books has once again published a beautiful board book that introduces young Orthodox Christians to new “friends”: the saints of the Church. These new friends are no ordinary friends: because they are saints, they point us to Christ, and demonstrate the beautiful virtues that produce fruit in the life of each person who is truly following God. God’s Saintly Friends V. 2 is the second in this series of board books written by Kathryn Reetzke and illustrated by Abigail Holt. 

In this book, readers will meet eight sets of saintly friends, one for each spread of the book. This edition includes saints who were related to each other: Sts. Ruth and Naomi; St. Emelia and her children; Sts. Cosmos and Damien; Sts. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus; the Theotokos and St. Elizabeth; Sts. Cyril and Methodius; Sts. Benedict and Scholastica; and St. John the Forerunner. Kathryn Reetzke has succinctly written a one-sentence statement about each set of saints. This statement mentions the virtuous way in which a saintly friend points those around them to Christ. Each spread of the book also offers a few sentences introducing these saints who modeled that statement with their life. The spread also includes a drawing of the saints as they display the virtue and interact with these other members of their family.

Abigail Holt’s simple but beautiful illustrations pair beautifully with Reetzke’s words. The saintly friends are sketched in a straightforward style and colorized with a select palette. The illustrations are simple, but will be engaging for children of all ages. 

Readers will learn much from the words of the book, and desire to interact with their family members in a similar manner. Children will be especially drawn to the friendly faces and kindness of the saints on every page. The book may be one of those books that is just read over and over again. It could also be used for educational purposes: whether for a family study, or for a Church school class. With a little research and a few other resources, each spread could easily be crafted into a lesson about the saintly friends on that page (and the way in which they interacted with their family members), while also taking a closer look at the virtue that they modeled. Regardless of how the book is used, all who read it will be challenged to become a saintly friend and to seek saintly friends.

This book will be an asset to any family or Church school library. It would also make a beautiful gift, whether for a new baby, a baptism, a young child’s name day, or their birthday. (This reader liked it so much that she gave a copy to the newest little member of her parish on the day of her baptism!)

Find you own copy of this book here: https://parkendbooks.com/shop/gods-saintly-friends-volume-2/

The Antiochian Department of Christian Education thanks Park End Books for providing a copy of this book for review.

A Glimpse at “Sands of Salvation” by Gabriel Wilson

Ancient Faith Publishing has just released a brand new graphic novel, the third in the “Among the Saints” series. Sands of Salvation tells the story of St. Moses the Black, brought to life in multiple dimensions by Gabriel Wilson’s impeccable pairing of art and words. St. Moses’ story is told by an old monk who knew him, and was witness to “how he learned to give up his own control to the power of God.”

Once a slave, St. Moses was banished into the desert after an unfortunate event occurred. St. Moses’ great physical strength enabled him to quickly take charge of a group of thieves, and he had seemingly everything that a man could ever want… but he was not free of the memories of his past life, and he always had to prove himself to maintain his position of power. In his most challenging moments, the Theotokos and angels appeared to him, arousing his curiosity. One time, he followed, and found himself in a monastery, where he noted true strength in the peaceful demeanor of the monks. He himself became a monk, and eventually converted several others of his former band of thieves when they came to steal from him. (When they arrived, he tied all four of them up and took them to his elders, showing that although his physical strength had not waned, his spiritual strength had surpassed it.) Temptations continued, but St. Moses persevered in repentance, strengthening the might of his soul by the grace of God. The book closes with what happens when St. Moses’ spiritual strength affords him the opportunity to extend the chance for repentance to the new leader of the band of thieves when he comes to pillage the monastery…

Readers of the first two “Among the Saints” graphic novels (The Cross and the Stag and The Broken Wheel) will once more be amazed at Gabriel Wilson’s beautiful art and careful use of words to assist in the storytelling. Both draw the reader into the life of St. Moses in a way that makes them feel that they are right there, experiencing life by his side. 

The book includes a historical note about St. Moses at the end, as well as the kontakion to him. This graphic novel will help its readers learn to truly “Throw your weakness before God, and the Lord will become your strength.” (~ St. Moses) It will be an excellent addition to any home or church school library, strengthening the faith of its readers and deepening their trust in God, our source of strength, with every reading.

Find your own copy of this powerful graphic novel at https://store.ancientfaith.com/sands-of-salvation-the-strength-of-abba-moses/  

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts.

A Glimpse at “Lives of the Saints for Children: January: Friends of Christ” written by Demetrios and Anna Fotopoulos and illustrated by Paraskevi Hatzithanasi

Newrome Press is publishing a twelve-book series called Friends of Christ. Each book is filled with the stories of five saints who are commemorated during a particular month of the year. Here is a closer look at Lives of the Saints for Children: January: Friends of Christ, written by Demetrios and Anna Fotopoulos and illustrated by Paraskevi Hatzithanasi, translated by Nicholas Palis, and printed in 2019.

Authors Demetrios and Anna Fotopoulos have retold the stories of five saints/groups of saints in this January edition of the Friends of Christ series. Readers will learn much about the lives of St. Basil the Great (commemorated January 1); St. George the Neomartyr of Ioannina (Jan. 17); St. Mark of Ephesus (Jan. 19); the Venerable Ascetic Xenia and her two servants (Jan. 24); and the Venerable Ascetics Xenofon, his wife Maria, and their two children, Arkadios and John (Jan. 26). Children of various ages will be able to understand and enjoy the stories of these great saints, and readers of all ages will find new friends that they will wish to emulate. Each saint’s story is clearly written with young listeners in mind: even the hardships that the saints face are worded in a child-friendly manner. Translator Nicholas Palis effectively communicates the stories to English-speaking children.

The bulk of the book features the stories of these saints. But that is not all that this book has to offer: it also contains a handful of other important resources. The book begins and ends with helpful prayers (the morning prayer to one’s patron saint, and the evening one). The back of the book offers “the Friends of Christ Glossary”, which enables children to understand some of the difficult terminology of the book.

As with other books in this series, the illustrations are beautiful. Paraskevi Hatzithanasi’s sketches draw from iconographic representations, and colorfully illustrate the portion of the saint’s story that is being told. Her art enhances the text while also familiarizing readers with the saint(s) in such a way that they will easily recognize the saint’s icon, when they find it at church or elsewhere.

This well-made hardcover book will last through many January readings. Families and Church schools will likely return to this book, January after January. Each saint/group of saints’ story could be read all at once, say once a week (for a family night, or in a Sunday Church school class, for example), or bit by bit, across a series of days, until it is completed. The book comes with a large decal featuring one of the illustrations. This decal would be a fantastic addition to a timeline if the family or Church school room has one on their wall; but it also makes a wonderful bookmark to mark the reader’s place in each story.

You can order your own copy of Lives of the Saints for Children: January: Friends of Christ from Newrome Press, here: https://www.newromepress.com/youth/SQ0261001.html 

We thank Newrome Press for sharing this book with us, so that we can share it with you

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts.

A Glimpse at “Maria the Mother of God” by Athena Dasiou-Ioannou and illustrated by Christina Douligeri

Newrome Press offers a beautiful picture book about the Theotokos, Maria the Mother of God, written by Athena Dasiou-Ioannou, and illustrated by Christina Douligeri. This book takes its readers through the earthly life of Mary, the Theotokos. Young children will love it for its beautiful illustrations, and older children will learn much from the text, scriptures, and songs incorporated into its pages. 

Author Athena Dasiou-Ioannou’s experience in and love for teaching children is evident in the way that she weaves scripture and the hymns of the church into the book, seamlessly entwining them with the carefully-explained story. In this way, the familiar songs and scriptures that children hear in Church are tied in perfectly with the story, connecting the story of the Theotokos’ life with their own experiences in the Divine services. Mary’s Greek name, Maria, is used for most of the book, and many of the hymns are provided in both English and in Greek, which is beautiful for children who are learning to speak and read both languages. Some vocabulary words are gently introduced in the story line, and a handful are listed in a glossary at the back of the book.

Illustrator Christina Douligeri’s art for this book does more than merely bringing life and color to the story. The pictures are truly beautiful, and include many carefully-chosen details. Each illustration is filled with soul and emotion, while also including so many similarities to icons that it will help young readers to recognize the saints both in the book and in their icon.  

This book is a great resource for families and church schools alike. It can be read many times throughout the year, as the Church year passes and we celebrate the many feasts of the Mother of God. May she pray for all of us.

Find your copy of Maria the Mother of God, here: https://www.newromepress.com/youth/SQ0255202.html 

Thanks to Newrome Press for supplying us with a copy of this book so that we could write this review. 

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts.

Three New Children’s Books from Newrome Press

Three new children’s books from Newrome Press are now available. You can read a bit about each, below. Visit https://www.newromepress.com/youth/ so that you can be among the first to purchase them for yourself, your children, or your Sunday School class. 

A Boy’s Journey to Sainthood: Saint Porphyrios Kafsokalivia by Anna Iakovou, Illustrated by Konstantinos Dimitrelos

Many Orthodox Christians are familiar with St. Porphyrios Kafsokalivia, and resonate with his words. But do you know the story of his life? St. Porphyrios’ story is beautifully told and illustrated in this brand new picture book from Newrome Press. 

Author Anna Iakovou effectively uses descriptive language to tell St. Porphyrios’ life story. The reader can’t help but feel that they are right there with him. They sense the warm autumn sunshine on their shoulders as the boy struggles to read his favorite story, the life of St. John the Hut-Dweller, while watching over his family’s sheep. They hear the schemes of the lazy older coworkers forcing their work on him when he goes to the city to work in a grocery store.  They smell the sea air as the young man hides at every port beyond his original destination – his parents’ hometown, aboard the ship headed to Mt. Athos, where he longs to live. And they can almost taste his joy as he becomes a schema monk, years later.

Konstantinos Dimitrelos’ delightful illustrations add depth and charm to the story. The illustrations of the saint himself very much bring him to life in the reader’s mind. Tucked into the corner of one page, readers will even find a photograph of the saint, since he lived in the era of cameras. The book ends with two pages of heartening quotes from St. Porphyrios.

Readers of all ages will find encouragement to face whatever opportunities come their way as they read the story of the life of St. Porphyrios in this book. 

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Paul Apostle to the Nations: the Life, Work, and Travels of the Herald of the Lord, from the Sacred Monastery of the Honorable Forerunner, Mesa Potamou, translated by Stavros and Stavroula Stamati

Newrome Press has just released a book for older children, focused on the life of Saint Paul. The first quarter of the book tells the story of his life, and the rest of the book takes a close look at his travels. Part story book, part “travel/history” guide, this book will be useful to anyone studying the travels of the saint and/or the history of cities in which he visited. 

The book includes beautiful iconography from the Sacred Monastery of Kykos, Cyprus, to illustrate the part of the book that tells Saint Paul’s life story. The portion of the book featuring his travels is broken up according to the trips that he took. Each travel section begins with a map illustrating that particular journey. Informational pages about each city which he visited on that journey follow the map, offering a brief history of the city, as well as some photographs of the city.

Older children who are fascinated by history, maps, or travel will enjoy learning about each place that Saint Paul visited, when they read this book. It will be a valuable asset to a home library, classroom, or church school that is studying the life of Saint Paul.

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The Many Tunics of Christ: A Nativity Story by Theofanis Sawabe, Illustrated by Vladimir Ilievski

There once was a young man named Thomas who loved being a monk. He was delighted to live and work in the monastery. He did not like all of the noisy and frustrating people outside of the monastery, so living INSIDE the monastery, away from them, was just fine by him.

This book tells the story of what happened on the eve of Nativity, when Thomas’ tasks for the day took him OUTSIDE of the monastery: first, he was to accompany Patriarch John to the hospital to visit the sick; then he was to hand out winter clothes to the poor; and finally, he was to go to the market to pick up an order for the monastery. How did that day go? How did Thomas handle interacting with the “noisy and frustrating” people? And why did the Archangel Michael  show up when he was trying to rest up for the vigil? 

Answer all of these questions and more when you read The Many Tunics of Christ: A Nativity Story. You’ll find a bonus section in the back of the book about “Patriarch John”, who we now know as St. John the Merciful. Somewhere between Thomas’ attitude change and St. John’s (and Christ’s!) compassion, readers will come away from this book challenged to rethink their own attitudes towards those around them.

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Thanks to Newrome Press for supplying us with copies of these books so that we could write these reviews. 

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts.

A Glimpse at “Good News Bad News” by Alexandra Chakos, Illustrated by Mike Stonelake

Ancient Faith Publishing’s brand new chapter book for kids ages 7-12, Good News Bad News, was written by Alexandra Chakos and is illustrated by Mike Stonelake. This book is the story of a young man who really wants to win a fabulous bike prize by selling lots of things for his school’s fundraiser, and he will go to almost any length to do so. It is the story of two brothers who do not always get along. It is also the story of a parish raising money for a new church building while also working together to raise the children in their midst. And it’s the story of two regular parents (who happen to be a priest and presvytera) who are learning with (and through!) their children.

They may be a priest’s family, but the Papadopoulos clan could pass for any other Orthodox Christian family who are trying to learn to love each other and grow in the Faith. The author’s introduction at the end of the book reveals that this story was based on real-life events that Presvytera Alexandra Chakos experienced while raising her own family. This explains why the story is so realistic! It is told in such a way that readers come away feeling that they’ve just been spying on the Papadopoulos family as they interact with each other and help each other through life’s challenges. 

Mike Stonelake’s engaging illustrations add a touch of humor to the story. They provide additional dimension to the characters and setting, drawing the reader in even more fully to the Papadopoulos’ world. Each illustration better helps the reader understand that priests’ families do normal things, too. For example, the dad of the family still drags their Christmas tree through the front door: he just does so while dressed in his cassock!

Parents and children alike will enjoy this tale. It has been woven with scriptures, joy, and just enough surprises to keep the reader guessing! The heartwarming ending takes place (appropriately) on Christmas day.

Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/good-news-bad-news/

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts.

A Glimpse at “Lives of the Saints for Children: November: Friends of Christ” written by Demetrios and Anna Fotopoulos

Newrome Press has begun publishing a twelve-book series called Friends of Christ. Each book is filled with the stories of five saints who are commemorated during a particular month of the year. Here is a closer look at Lives of the Saints for Children: November: Friends of Christ, written by Demetrios and Anna Fotopoulos and illustrated by Paraskevi Hatzithanasi, translated by Nicholas Palis, and printed in 2021.

Authors Demetrios and Anna Fotopoulos have beautifully told the stories of five saints in this November edition of the Friends of Christ series. Readers will learn much about the lives of Venerable David of Evia ( commemorated on Nov. 1), St. Porphyrios the Mime (Nov. 4), Sts. Galaktion and Episteme (Nov. 5), St. John Chrysostom (Nov. 13), and the Holy Great Martyr Katherine (Nov. 25). Each saint’s story is told in such a way that children of various ages can understand. Readers (even adults) will be challenged to grow to be more like that saint. (This reader learned a great deal from this book, even about the two saints whose stories she thought she already knew!) The text is interesting, thorough, and understandable. And the stories were clearly written with young listeners in mind: even the hardships that the saints face (for example, St. Katherine’s martyrdom) are worded in a child-friendly manner. Translator Nicholas Palis has done a good job of expressing the stories in English.

Aside from the stories of the saints, this book offers a handful of other important resources. The book opens and closes with prayers. It opens with the morning prayer to one’s patron saint, and closes with the evening one. That seems a beautiful way to begin (or end) each reading, depending on the time of day, as the reader’s saint can certainly pray that God will work in the heart of the reader through reading the example of the saint in the book! The back of the book features several pages called “the Friends of Christ Glossary”: a thorough child-friendly explanation of difficult terms and unfamiliar places mentioned in the book.

Young children will be drawn to the illustrations on every page. Paraskevi Hazithanasi’s colorful sketches seem to draw heavily on iconographic representations, while also perfectly illustrating the portion of the saint’s story that is being told on that page. Her art helps each reader to better understand the text while also being able to easily identify the saint, should the reader later encounter the saint’s icon.

This sturdy hardcover book will last through many November readings. This is good, because it is likely that its readers will benefit from reading it year after year. One saint’s story could be read in one sitting, once a week (for a family night, or in a Sunday Church school class, for example), or bit by bit, across a series of days, until it is completed. The book comes with a large decal featuring one of the illustrations. This decal would be a fantastic addition to a timeline if the family or Church school room has one on their wall; but it also makes a wonderful bookmark to mark the reader’s place in each story.

You can order your own copy of Lives of the Saints for Children: November: Friends of Christ from Newrome Press, here: https://www.newromepress.com/youth/SQ0261011.html 

We thank Newrome Press for sharing this book with us, so that we can share it with you

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts.

A Glimpse at “The Fullness of Joy: A Story of Loss and Renewal” by Georgia Briggs

Georgia Briggs once again stirs the thoughts of her readers through a fictional account, The Fullness of Joy: A Story of Loss and Renewal, published by Ancient Faith Publishing. Although the novel is earmarked for young teens, its evocative writing invites older readers as well – especially those who love St. Seraphim of Sarov and/or have a heart for animals – to ponder the saint’s life from an unusual perspective. A fictional bear whose emptiness drives her through the woods finds her way to St. Seraphim’s home. Over time, she observes him, accompanies him, and even comes to trust him although she does not particularly like humans. 

The saint ever and always has bread in his pocket that he shares freely with the bear and all of the other creatures that come to his humble home. But it is not the bread alone that feeds the bear. St. Seraphim calls her what he calls everyone, “My Joy!” The bear accepts this proclamation as a christening, and, for her, being named is akin to being accepted and wanted. St. Seraphim makes room for her in his heart, his home, and even at his table. That warm welcome feeds Joy’s soul, even though she is just a bear.

Brigg’s pencil drawings season the story with beauty and intrigue. Their subtle coloration invites the reader deeper into the life of St. Seraphim, as seen through Joy’s eyes, beyond the written words on the pages. The characters’ demeanor in the illustrations make the reader want to be their friend, and invite the reader to feel that they, too, have been called “My Joy!”

This book is not a half-baked, light read. The subject matter is heavy, but the reader steps away with a taste of what it may have been like for St. Seraphim to pray on a rock for 1,000 days and to be beaten within inches of his life by men who sought only earthly treasure. Briggs sprinkles crumbs of St. Seraphim’s wisdom throughout the novel. These treasured crumbs, flavored by St. Seraphim’s love for God and His creatures, nourish the reader, even though they are passed along unexpectedly, through the simple mind of a bear. 

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts

Purchase your own copy of The Fullness of Joy: A Story of Loss and Renewal by Georgia Briggs here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/the-fullness-of-joy-a-story-of-loss-and-renewal/ 

For additional readings on the life of St. Seraphim, along with family-friendly resources, check out an earlier Orthodox Christian Parenting blog post: Learning About a Saint: St. Seraphim of Sarov (Commemorated on January 2)

If you are a fan of the writings of Georgia Briggs, you may enjoy a review of her book, Icon on the Orthodox Christian Parenting blog.