A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Chapter 4

Note: This series of blog posts will offer ideas of how to build up the little church in your home. The series will take a closer look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker. Each week we will take a look at one portion of the book and focus on the wisdom and ideas offered there. Find an overview of the entire book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/gleanings-from-a-book-blueprints-for-the-little-church-creating-an-orthodox-home-by-elissa-bjeletich-and-caleb-shoemaker/

We thank Elissa Bjeletich, Caleb Shoemaker, and Ancient Faith Publishing for granting us permission to share the book with you in this way. Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints

 

Chapter 4: Creating Sacred Space

The fourth chapter of “Blueprints for the Little Church” encourages its readers to set up prayerful space in their homes. The authors encourage their readers to create a sacred space, a “family altar”, where they regularly meet to pray together. This space may begin with only an icon or two, but can grow until it includes many items that enhance our worship at Church, as well: multiple icons, candles, incense, holy water, etc.

The chapter talks its readers through selecting a location and icons, then taking each small step needed to prepare both the space and the family for worshipping in that space. It addresses the use of candles and incense in family worship. Readers are encouraged to have, use, and drink holy water in this space. They are also encouraged to acquire some holy oil to keep here for use, as needed. It also discusses the creation and use of a vigil lamp in the family worship space.

As is the case in the rest of the book, throughout this chapter the authors have included related quotes from families other than their own. Each cites their own experience while encouraging readers to set up their home’s altar in a way that works best for the members of their own family. The chapter is helpful for readers of all levels of Orthodox experience: it will be useful to readers who are starting from scratch, but it will also offer the opportunity of re-evaluation to those who have a family altar that has been used for decades.

Do you have a parenting question for the “Blueprints For the Little Church” authors? Connect with Elissa here: https://elissabjeletich.com/contact/ and email Caleb at caleb.shoemaker@gmail.com.

 

Here are a few gleanings from chapter 4:

***

“Setting up an icon corner is a crucial part of building your little church. Just as our church buildings are elaborately adorned with images of Christ, His Mother, and the saints, our homes reproduce this in small scale with a family icon corner.” (p. 71, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Each family will bring their own flavor to the icon corner, and no two will be exactly alike. What all family altars have in common is that they are the gathering place for prayer and worship in the daily rhythm of life.” (p. 73, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Begin with two icons: Christ and the Theotokos. If all you have is a cross, that’s a good starting place, too… If you only have one icon, place it in a conspicuous location in your house and use it for prayer. If you have no printed icons, you have your children and your spouse to pray with you—the living icons of Christ in your life!” (p. 75, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Lighting candles and burning incense also help to shore up the notion that we are bringing the parish into our own home and  that our houses are places where Christ and His angels and saints are welcome.” (p. 78, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Most Orthodox families will receive holy water once or twice a year to bring home. St. John Maximovitch recommended getting enough to last you the whole year and making sure you drink some every chance you get.” (p. 82, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“To use [holy oil]: Place a little of the oil on your finger and make the sign of the cross on the forehead of the person being blessed. This can be a very powerful and emotional experience for parents and their children. Don’t hurry. Pray for each person and sign their head with a cross in the name of the Trinity. You may find your children crave this special connection between the two of you and the saint to whom you are praying.” (p. 87, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“As you set out to create sacred space in your home, know that you cannot do this wrong. Set aside a space in your home and let your icon corner develop as it suits your family best. The important thing is to gather together in prayer and to make room in your home to live out your faith.” (pp. 88-89, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

 

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A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Chapter 3

Note: This series of blog posts will offer ideas of how to build up the little church in your home. The series will take a closer look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker. Each week we will take a look at one portion of the book and focus on the wisdom and ideas offered there. Find an overview of the entire book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/gleanings-from-a-book-blueprints-for-the-little-church-creating-an-orthodox-home-by-elissa-bjeletich-and-caleb-shoemaker/

We thank Elissa Bjeletich, Caleb Shoemaker, and Ancient Faith Publishing for granting us permission to share the book with you in this way. Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints

 

Chapter 3: Church Services and Parish Life

The third chapter of “Blueprints for the Little Church” offers its readers encouragement and ideas for including their children in the life of their parish through frequent Church attendance and active involvement with parish life. It also begins to address incorporating the Orthodox Faith into their home life. Along the way, the authors extend grace to their readers, and spur them to do the same to themselves and their children, especially during the divine services.

The chapter addresses when to begin attending services with children. It offers strategies for the struggles that Church attendance can bring (not just to children, but also to their parents). Both authors chime in with examples from their own family life, and they also include stories and suggestions from other parents with varying levels of parenting experience. The authors encourage their readers to attend weekday services whenever possible, and to also find ways to include children in serving their parish and get to know other parishioners alongside that regular attendance. The chapter then discusses inviting your priest into your home for such events as house blessings, slavas, birth blessings, and serious illnesses.

This chapter is full of ideas and suggestions, but it is also full of grace. Readers will come away feeling encouraged to heighten their participation in the parish and to more fully incorporate the Faith into their family’s life. But they will also be relieved by the encouragement to extend grace to themselves – and their children – along the way. When they do so, it is for their own salvation, as well as their children’s.

 

Have a parenting question for the “Blueprints For the Little Church” authors? Connect with Elissa here: https://elissabjeletich.com/contact/ and email Caleb at caleb.shoemaker@gmail.com.

Here are a few gleanings from Chapter 3:

***

“‘It is vitally important for us as parents and as Christian adults in our home parish to communicate through words, actions, and attitudes that the children of the parish (all of them) are full members of the Body of Christ and are welcome at the services of the Church… We must develop welcoming, loving attitudes toward the children and young adults of our parishes— not in programs and activities, but in full inclusion. After all, we are joined with them in Christ through Baptism and the Eucharist… Be the loving example, the caring mentor, the welcoming friend to all families.’ — Caleb” (p. 47, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“The first… move you can make is to help your children develop a worshipful demeanor. When you say your prayers at home, ask them to behave as you’d want them to behave in church: stand, face the icons, pray. Don’t fight, don’t hit your sister, don’t scream… Signal to your children that worship in the home and worship in the church are the same—so they require the same kind of attention and respect.” (pp. 48-49, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

(after a discussion offering ideas of some quiet distractions that some young children may need during a service) “Ultimately… distractions [during the divine services] are not the answer. We need to focus on our goal: Are we just trying to quiet the children down, or are we hoping to raise saints? If our goal is to invite them into the worship and to make them a part of it, then we must do the opposite of distracting them. We must constantly be bringing their attention back to the services.” (p. 53, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Pride rears up in anger when a child dares to disobey or distract us, but humility defeats pride. We should remind ourselves we’re not perfect either. Our own minds wander; we lose focus; we forget to pray. We’re not infallible, and just as we ask God to forgive our iniquities and heal our infirmities, we must be even more merciful with children. The irony in this situation is that—because of our infirmity—we are focusing on the failures of our children and failing to recognize our own failure to engage in the liturgy.” (pp. 57-58, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“…coming to church more than once a week will integrate worship into your daily life. It’s an antidote to our modern problem of having separated our church lives from our daily lives, bringing church into the everyday.”

(p. 60, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Try to resist the urge to compare yourself and your family to the other people in your parish. Know that the family that seems to be effortlessly perfect is likely struggling in ways you can’t see, and the family that seems to be a mess may in fact have a more profound piety than you would imagine. God knows our hearts, and we are here to support and love one another along the journey.” (p. 63, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“One of the wonderful functions of a priest is to visit you during those critical times, to support you through joy, struggle, and sorrow. Many families do not call on their priest for assistance, not understanding that there are special prayers and blessings he can offer. When we do call on our priest, we come to understand that along with powerful prayers, he brings comfort and reassurance, making the Church present at these most important moments.”(p. 68, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Your parish is another family—consecrated by God to help you come to salvation… Your involvement in the life of the Church will bless and sanctify that community as the Holy Spirit works through you to bring the presence of Christ into every relationship… Go to serve, go to grow, go to love, go to learn. Your children will learn from you to form a lasting relationship with their future parish community, and their faith will be the stronger for it.” (p. 70, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

In this 11 minute video, “Blueprints for the Little Church” author Elissa Bjeletich talks with Fr. Ted about bringing children to Church: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSRcSfva1-Y&feature=share

***

A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Chapter 2

Note: This series of blog posts will offer ideas of how to build up the little church in your home. The series will take a closer look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker. Each week we will take a look at one portion of the book and focus on the wisdom and ideas offered there. Find an overview of the entire book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/gleanings-from-a-book-blueprints-for-the-little-church-creating-an-orthodox-home-by-elissa-bjeletich-and-caleb-shoemaker/

We thank Elissa Bjeletich, Caleb Shoemaker, and Ancient Faith Publishing for granting us permission to share the book with you in this way. Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints

 

Chapter 2: Getting Started

The authors of “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” encourage their readers to begin changing their lifestyle to better reflect the life of the Church, but they implore the reader to do so gently. This second chapter of the book offers suggestions of ways to bring the Faith to life in our own homes in a very basic and focused manner. Too much too soon can easily burn a family out, which is not at all the goal. The goal is to grow, and to continue growing, not to flash into a flame that quickly extinguishes.

The reader is encouraged to consider the maxim that Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory was given when he was a young, enthusiastic college student: “Go to church; say your prayers; remember God.” (p. 37) The authors encourage their readers to consider that statement important, because it’s short but full of wisdom when it comes to living the Orthodox Christian life. These three actions will greatly strengthen our little Church. They can be carried out in different ways, none “better” than the others. But our priority should always be that we attend the Divine Services, pray, and keep God foremost in our minds.

The chapter offers suggestions from parents and grandparents of ways to begin doing these things. It shares wise suggestions from Fr. Seraphim Rose as well. Again and again, the reader hears that they should go to church, pray, and remember God. Each suggestion recommends applying gentleness when starting new Orthodox practices, and that families be gracious with themselves and each other along the way. The chapter closes with the admonishment that when we fall, we need to get back up again every time.

 

If you have a parenting question for the “Blueprints For the Little Church” authors, you can connect with Elissa here https://elissabjeletich.com/contact/ and email Caleb at caleb.shoemaker@gmail.com.

Here are a few gleanings from chapter 2:

***

“The two things all Orthodox families should begin doing immediately are very simple: Pray and go to church.” (p. 36, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Begin by committing to attendance at every Sunday liturgy, rain or shine, and begin to schedule your extracurricular activities around church. If your family expects you at Mother’s Day brunch, tell them you’ll hurry over after church. If the soccer team always plays on Sunday morning, let them know that you’ll be in church. Make the firm commitment to attend church every Sunday.” (p. 38, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Many saints’ lives teach us that simple humility and fervent prayer bring us closer to God. Trust in this, and don’t get lost in an effort to do everything all at once. Begin to build your little church by laying a foundation of prayer and church attendance, and then build it up layer by layer, a little at a time.” (p. 41, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Learn first of all to be at peace with the spiritual situation which has been given you, and to make the most of it. If your situation is spiritually barren, do not let this discourage you, but work all the harder at what you yourself can do for your spiritual life. It is already something very important to have access to the Sacraments and regular church services. Beyond this you should have regular morning and evening prayers with your family, and spiritual reading—all according to your strength and the possibilities afforded by your circumstances.” (a quote from Fr. Seraphim Rose, as shared on p. 42, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Ask God and His saints to help you as you shepherd your family along this path. Pray that all of you will grow in your love for Christ, that each of you will come to yearn for Him and for a life in the Church. This is the most important thing you can do to help your little church grow.” (p. 43, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“‘Don’t force children to pray, because that might make them become bitter towards it. Instead, just pray in front of them and ask them to participate. If they refuse to join in, then just pray by yourself and try again the next day. Lead by example.’ —Sophia, mother of two” (p. 44, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

 

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

Note: This series of blog posts will offer ideas of how to build up the little church in your home. The series will take a closer look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker. Each week we will take a look at one portion of the book and focus on the wisdom and ideas offered there. Find an overview of the entire book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/gleanings-from-a-book-blueprints-for-the-little-church-creating-an-orthodox-home-by-elissa-bjeletich-and-caleb-shoemaker/

We thank Elissa Bjeletich, Caleb Shoemaker, and Ancient Faith Publishing for granting us permission to share the book with you in this way. Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints

 

Chapter 1: Why the Little Church?

In chapter 1 of “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”, authors Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker help their readers better understand the concept of the “little Church”. The chapter begins by reminding each reader that “The Church” is not a building or place: rather, it is the Body of Christ, including all of His people throughout time. The smallest unit of the Church is the family unit, or the “little Church”.

The chapter goes on to suggest that family life is a type of asceticism. Just as monks are interrupted from their daily tasks for prayer, so family members are interrupted from their daily tasks by each other. But rather than distracting us from it, family life can actually bring each member of a family deeper into the spiritual life, when it is properly approached. The authors encourage their readers to look for ways to make their own home a “natural monastery”, where the family works together and grows spiritually at the same time.

The chapter continues with a closer look at marriage and baptism: two foundational events in the construction of the little Church. The authors offer their readers the opportunity to revisit many prayers from each of those events, to see how, even from marriage and from baptism, the Church of their home is being established among its members. The authors encourage parents to remember that it is their job to raise saints, and that, as they work toward that end, the family can practice asceticism together. The chapter closes with several “holy habits” that families can develop to work toward this end.

Do you have a parenting question for the “Blueprints For the Little Church” authors? Connect with Elissa here: https://elissabjeletich.com/contact/ and email Caleb at caleb.shoemaker@gmail.com.

 

Here are a few gleanings from chapter 1:

***

“The little church has its own hierarchy and its lay versions of the sacraments—we break bread together, we bless one another, anoint one another, pray for one another, and love one another in this little community, striving together to grow ever closer to Christ.” (p. 22, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Family life, however, can also lead one to deep spirituality. A family can be immersed in prayer, both at table and after, and their hospitality and generosity will speak of an earnest application of Christ’s exhortation to love their neighbor as themselves.” (p. 23, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“God sends everything to us for our salvation, and we can receive it that way, accepting each of our daily tasks and experiences as a call to prayer. When confronted with mountains of laundry, we can thank God for clothing us as He clothes the lilies of the field; when approaching a sink full of dirty dishes, we can thank Him for providing food and ask that He nourish our souls as well. Every mundane task that makes family life so busy can be received as a call to prayer.” (p. 25, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“The truth is that your home is a school, a hospital, and a church. Your children will learn their spirituality from you, and it is a sacred calling for parents to shepherd—literally, to pastor—their children in the ways of righteousness.” (p. 27, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“It is in these moments—these holy spaces—that man and woman are no longer individuals but are bound to one another, and a new one icon is created. It is in this holy event that a young child is crucified with Christ, resurrected with Him in glory, sealed with the Holy Spirit, and tonsured—set apart—for the work of the priesthood in which all believers participate.” (pp. 29-30, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“…Our little churches should be communities always centered on Christ, where love and forgiveness reign, where we pray together ad struggle toward salvation together. This includes directing our children in loving submission and repentance to their Heavenly Father, who has promised to complete a good work in them. It is not about manners—it’s about holiness. It’s not about “good behavior” — it’s about a life given completely to God in loving humility and peace.” (p. 32, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Sunday school, religious schools, and summer camps are not enough; they may enrich what you are doing in the home, but they cannot replace it. We cannot outsource the raising of saints.” (p. 34, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

 

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

Note: This series of blog posts will offer ideas of how to build up the little church in your home. The series will take a closer look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker. Each week we will take a look at one portion of the book and focus on the wisdom and ideas offered there. Find an overview of the entire book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/gleanings-from-a-book-blueprints-for-the-little-church-creating-an-orthodox-home-by-elissa-bjeletich-and-caleb-shoemaker/

We thank Elissa Bjeletich, Caleb Shoemaker, and Ancient Faith Publishing for granting us permission to share the book with you in this way. Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints

 

Week 1: Introduction

Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker begin their collaborative work, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” with important introductory pieces. Before they mention anything about building the family’s little church, they quite frankly (and repeatedly) urge their readers to each ask their priest which practices will be the best for their particular family. Each reader’s priest knows them and their family situation and thus can best speak to what will or will not be helpful to building the little church in that particular home.

The introductory chapter offers a bit of background for the book, including reasons the authors wrote it. They found that they needed a book like this when their children were younger, but there was none to be had. So they undertook the task to write this one. This introductory chapter offers suggestions of where to begin the process of creating an Orthodox home. It takes a moment to explain the concept of “the little church”. It also touches on what it means to live an Orthodox life. This first chapter is foundational to the book, and prepares the reader well for the subsequent chapters.

Do you have a parenting question for the “Blueprints For the Little Church” authors? Connect with Elissa here: https://elissabjeletich.com/contact/ and email Caleb at caleb.shoemaker@gmail.com.

 

Here are a few gleanings that can offer you a closer look at the beginning of the book:

***

“As you attempt to implement the concepts you find here, you may run into trouble. Whenever you’re in doubt, please ask your priest.” (p. 5, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“‘Even at their age they are exposed to all sorts of folly and bad examples from popular entertainments. Our children need remedies for all these things! We are so concerned with our children’s schooling; if only we were equally zealous in bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord!’” ~St. John Chrysostom (p. 7, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“This book is for parents… We offer this book from sincere hearts to you who desire to present the rich heritage of the Orthodox Church’s teachings for families — what our great saints and elders have often called ‘the little church’.” (p. 9, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“For many families, it is hard enough to get the family up and out of bed for the Divine Liturgy each week — let alone to take on daily prayer, frequent Scripture reading, weekly fasting, Lenten seasons, Vespers, vigils, Matins, and feast days! How can we do everything we’re ‘supposed to do’ when it’s hard enough to find time to do the bare minimum? How are we to raise saints when our toddler doesn’t want to keep his diaper on?” (pp. 10-11, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“‘My wise priest advised me to stop comparing, to know that we are all running this race together but we must run it with our heads down. When I stopped worrying about what others were doing, I was better able to focus and to lead my own family.’ ~ Elissa Bjeletich (p. 12, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“‘One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a parent was ask for help… Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’ll never know what your family can accomplish when you seek counsel and guidance along the path.’” ~ Caleb Shoemaker (pp. 13-14, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“In our modern culture, we compartmentalize our lives… Yet Jesus clearly calls us to love Him with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind. There is no compartmentalization in this, but true unity… Christ is calling us to a unified understanding of ourselves and our lives. Love for God must become the foundation of everything, and all aspects of our lives — our jobs and our families and our recreation, our meals and our entertainment — must all be connected to and part of a unified whole…” (p. 15, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“…the reality is that young people are fleeing the faith of their families, but not those whose families have instilled a deep faith within their hearts; and the little church is one of the defining reasons children stay in the Church as they grow up.” (p. 17, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“The Orthodox life is not complicated. It is beautiful in its simplicity, wondrous in its depth, vivifying in its ritual and sacraments. The complications are typically self-imposed when, instead of following the Church’s teachings or the admonitions of our priests and confessors, we try to cobble together a hodge-podge religion based mostly on external trappings and false deadlines.” (p. 19, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

If you’re interested in learning more about the ideas found in “Blueprints for the Little Church”, check out this webinar https://www.goarch.org/-/blueprints-for-the-little-church; this keynote address https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WHPZ57H5zPo; Elissa’s author website https://elissabjeletich.com/; and/or Caleb’s YouTube channel, “May I Have a Word?”: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDmih9jUJ5QKGXfU8iKI-aA/videos

A Closer Look at John 3:17

The Antiochian Archdiocese’s 2020 Creative Arts Festival has as its theme John 3:17, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Learning and understanding the meaning of this verse is pivotal to our Christian life, for it encourages us to examine condemnation, salvation, and judgement. In context, this verse also affords us the opportunity to choose for ourselves how to respond to God’s offer of salvation through Christ. As we study John 3:17, we can help our children to do the same. Thinking about this verse will help our children to grow in their Faith, while also preparing them to respond to it artistically, if they’re participating in the Festival. 

Rosemary Shumski, Creative Arts Festival coordinator for the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education, reflects on the theme in this guest blog:

Let’s examine this quote in context. Most of us are more familiar with the quote from John 3:16, which precedes it, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should have everlasting life.” We then have our Creative Festivals Theme, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17) This is followed by the quote, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18)

Here are some comments from the Orthodox Study Bible: “While Christ comes to save and not to condemn, man has free will. Thus he can reject this gift, and he becomes condemned by his own rejection.”

Jesus came into the world so that we could be rescued from condemnation. The name “Jesus” literally means “God saves.” He came to show us how we could be reunited with God. In his book, The Great I Came’s of Jesus, Fr. Anthony Coniaris states, “Before Jesus came, we were a fallen race. We needed not a judge to condemn us but a Savior to raise us from our fall…Jesus said, ‘Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but those who are sick. I have come not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’ We needed someone to lift us, to heal us, not someone to judge and condemn us.”

Because Jesus became incarnate, He is like us in all ways except sin, so He understands His people. Jesus is compassionate, because He knows what it’s like to be tempted. But we have to make the choice as to whether we want to turn away from Him or repent and turn to Him. God didn’t create us to be robots. Because He gave us free will, we have to make that decision for ourselves.

 

Find more information about the Creative Arts Festival theme for 2020 here: http://www.antiochian.org/dashboard?name=Creative%20Festivals%202020

Here are some ways that you can continue to ponder John 3:17:

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An easy way to learn the message of John 3:17 is with the catchy theme song for the Creative Festivals. Here you will find the lyrics and a link to the audio so that you can listen and learn it for yourself! http://www.antiochian.org/regulararticle/448

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“By the Cross, the Son of God having become man, accomplished our salvation…The Cross of the Lord was the instrument by which He saved the world after the fall into sin. Through the Cross, He descended with His soul into hell so as to raise up from it the souls who were awaiting Him.” ~ St. John Maximovitch

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Fr. Joseph Purpura explains the logo for the 2020 Creative Arts Festival theme: “The logo… depicts Christ healing a blind man — Christ is the Healer. Unlike others, Christ did not condemn the blind man for his affliction. Likewise, He did not condemn those who had fallen and sinned. Instead, He healed and restored them to a new life and a new opportunity. Once they were healed, Jesus then told them to change their lives and sin no more.”

creative festivals logo 2020

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“Think then what proofs of lovingkindness these are; by Grace to remit sins, and not to punish him who after grace has sinned and deserves punishment, but to give him a season and appointed space for his clearing. For all these reasons Christ said to Nicodemus, ‘God sent not His Son to condemn the world, but to save the world.’” ~ From St. John Chrysostom’s homilies on the Gospel of John, Homily 28

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“’For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.’

It is so simple a message that it is difficult to grasp.  In our weakness of mind it is hard to understand how God can love everyone; his enemies, unrepentant sinners and the righteous all the same.  We cannot bear to admit that God loves even those whom we cannot dream of loving. Even our enemies! The God we imagine into existence fits our notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, good and bad so much that he turns into a projection of our own minds, in other words, an idol.

As one Orthodox writer puts it (and I paraphrase), it is better to say that God does not exist than to project onto him our needs, desires and fantasies.”

So begins Fr. Antony Hughes’ sermon on John 3:17, preached at St. Mary Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA, on Sept. 13, 2009. Read the sermon in its entirety here: http://stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/sermons/2009/for-god-so-loved-the-world

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“Our whole understanding of what heaven and hell is, has been so distorted and abused by the teachings of the Western churches that it has even entered our Church and made us blind to the teachings of the Gospel and the teachings of the Church Fathers. Heaven is not up there, and hell is not down there. You want to know what hell is? Hell is an absence of God (whether it’s here on this earth or in the afterlife), and it is a turning away from God. You want to know who condemns us to hell? We condemn ourselves. To find yourself in hell is to turn your back on God, to reject God, to reject His mercy. There are people out there who are living in hell on this earth right now, and the sad thing is that they often don’t realise it. They love to blame society, those around them, even the Church, but the answers to their problems are inside of them! All they need to do is to discover God and His kingdom within them, and then will they realise what they’ve been missing all this time. God can’t condemn us to an eternity of misery. It’s just not in His nature. He can only love, but He can’t force you to love Him. If you choose to turn your back on God, turn your back on His unconditional love, then you will create your own hell.” ~ Nick Brown, “Sermon for the Sunday before the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross”, Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, Brisbane, QLD, Sept. 1999

Read the rest of the sermon here: http://www.orthodoxchristian.info/pages/beforecros.htm

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Introducing a Resource: SaintsBox.com

(note: the emailed materials in the subscription arrive in full color, but are depicted here in black and white)

 

“You’ve got mail!” Oh, how I loved to hear these words when I was a child! It was the same for my children as they grew up, as well. Each piece of mail “just for them” was met with great enthusiasm and eagerness. At least in our family’s experience, it is a joy for children to receive mail of their very own!

Did you know that there is an Orthodox resource that will send your child(ren) mail of their own? And this is not just any old mail: this mail builds the faith of its recipients, preparing them for each Sunday’s Divine Liturgy! The resource is called SaintsBox.com, and while most SaintsBox mail is delivered electronically, some of it arrives via the postal service. SaintsBox.com offers two different weekly email subscriptions, as well as optional accoutrements such as a “Saint of the Month” vinyl icon cards subscription (complete with a small tin for housing the collection), and other related products which are sent through the postal service. The weekly email subscriptions at SaintsBox.com are geared towards two different age levels of children. Each aims to “reinforce what the Church has already established so our children will embrace the True Faith for life!” (home page, https://www.saintsbox.com/)

“St. John’s Clubhouse” (named after St. John Maximovich of San Francisco) is the SaintsBox email subscription that is full of ways to help children ages 4-8 prepare for Sunday’s Liturgy. A cast of characters called “the Clubhouse Kids” help the “clubhouse members” learn something about Sunday’s Gospel by sharing a related “story from their life” that bring the Gospel reading to life. They include the passage, so that parents and children can read the Gospel reading together before the Liturgy. They also challenge clubhouse members to anticipate or look for a particular thing during the upcoming Sunday Liturgy. This may include explaining an unfamiliar vocabulary word or upcoming event in the life of the Church. A printable sheet including a beautiful line-art icon (by Kiah Boyd) and a brief explanation will give the member an opportunity to learn more about the saint or featured feast/event for that particular Sunday. Find more information about St. John’s Clubhouse here: https://www.saintsbox.com/st-johns-clubhouse/.

“TQ6:21” is the SaintsBox email subscription which is actually a treasure quest for 8-12 year olds. Named for Matthew 6:21 (“for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”), this subscription club helps its readers seek treasures of the Faith in the context of the Scriptures. In order to complete the puzzles in each week’s quest, “questers” need to read the Epistle and Gospel readings for the forthcoming Sunday Liturgy. In the context of clues and riddles, questers will learn about the Faith, the Scriptures, the saints, and more. Find more information about TQ6:21 here: https://www.saintsbox.com/tq621/.

Both subscriptions offer activities that parents and children can experience together, or parents can participate with part of the adventure, and the children can do the rest. (SaintsBox suggests that parents of the 4-8 year olds will likely spend 15 minutes per week and parents of 8-12 year olds, only 5-10 minutes each week, most of which is reading the Scripture passages together.) In other words, this subscription will also help the parents prepare for Sunday’s Liturgy as well, but it is not a huge time commitment!

Besides the two email subscriptions, SaintsBox.com also offers materials such as their SaintsBox, which is a pocket-sized tin filled with a baker’s dozen vinyl icon cards, each written by Elina Pelikan and featuring a different saint or event. (The SaintsBox is also available as a larger set which includes information sheets about each saint and an olive wood cross from the Holy Land.) SaintsBox.com’s tin “Trisagion Pocket Prayer Corner” includes the trisagion prayer; a vinyl icon of Christ, the Theotokos, and St. John the Forerunner; and an olive wood cross. Each of the vinyl icon cards are also available for individual purchase. So if you have a child who particularly loves one of the featured saints, you may wish to have just that saint’s card mailed to them. (Vinyl icons include: Christ/Theotokos/St. John the Forerunner; St. Patapios; St. Katherine of Alexandria; St. Jonah Bishop of Manchuria; the Nativity of the Theotokos; the 7 Holy Youths of Ephesus; Sts. Aquila and Priscilla; St. Columba of Iona; St. Irene the Great Martyr; St. Mary of Egypt; St. Patrick; St. Haralambos; St. Mugo; and St. John of San Francisco.)

We have seen samples of SaintsBox.com’s materials and would highly recommend this resource to Orthodox parents and teachers with children aged 4-12. The subscription materials are appealing and fun but also quite helpful. The icon cards/tin sets are sturdy, useful and interesting. The artwork is beautifully tasteful and engaging. SaintsBox.com’s materials will help Orthodox children (and the adults in their life) grow closer to Christ and His Church, one Sunday’s Gospel reading at a time.

If your child (or grandchild, Sunday Church school student, or godchild) enjoys getting mail of their own, we encourage you to check out SaintsBox.com. Whether you decide to mail a vinyl saint card to them, or to send a full subscription to the program, your child(ren) will enjoy receiving the mail that comes their way. And this extraordinary mail will help them (and you!) to grow closer to Christ and His Church!

 

Here is a little more information about SaintsBox.com and its offerings which may be of help to you:

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“Our goal is to help children engage with more of the service and make deeper connections with Christ and His Saints.” ~ Annalisa Boyd, creator/writer of SaintsBox.com
Read more from her, and meet the creative team behind this wonderful subscription service here:  https://www.saintsbox.com/about-2/

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“Welcome to St. John’s Clubhouse, a subscription box club for your 4-8 year old. As parents, we understand the importance of instilling a love for Christ and His Church in the hearts of our children. We want them to embrace the True Faith as taught through Holy Tradition and the Living Church, but it’s hard to know where to start. St. John’s clubhouse offers the tools you need to help prepare your child to participate more fully in the Divine Liturgy each week. They will become friends with the Clubhouse Kids as they share from the Holy Scriptures, meet a Sunday saint and… do activities that inspire them to live the faith in every life situation. As you know, kids this age are CONSTANTLY learning. Providing teaching materials that feel like play, opens the door for your child to make long lasting positive connections between Church and home.” ~from the SaintsBox facebook page, Sept. 18, 2018

Find more information about St. John’s Clubhouse here: https://www.saintsbox.com/st-johns-clubhouse/

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“TQ6:21 (Treasure Quest – Matthew 6:21 “Where you treasure is, there your heart will be also”)

We have all been called to the challenging and amazing life-long quest of storing up treasure for heaven by being transformed into the image of Christ. This quest, as you well know, is a matter of life and death, and our kids need all of the tools that the Church has to offer if they are to endure to the end. In order to help our children on that journey into Life, we have created the TQ6:21 program, which provides practical and engaging ways for kids to learn to own their faith and live it daily. We have aimed, in our theming of the activities, to tap into the natural love for adventure of 8-12 year-olds, helping them to develop their unique talents, godly character, a deeper understanding of their faith, and a lasting love for Holy Tradition as expressed in the living Church — all while just plain having fun! We’ve prepared this guide for you as the adult assisting them, to help explain the basic format of the program, and how it is designed to function.” ~from the SaintsBox facebook page, Sept. 18, 2018

Find more information about TQ6:21 here: https://www.saintsbox.com/tq621/

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Watch SaintsBox creator Annalisa Boyd’s video podcast “The Ascetic Lives of Mothers”, in which she introduces SaintsBox, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7Xnl-UNAFo&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR09Efb4p7lgNkfcsken3bSSCL3jP7c5CO3HhCNK2vc9JosCKl9e8lAqfFs (Note: at the time of this podcast, the subscriptions were not all electronic. The podcast does a good job of describing the program and how children have interacted with it. However, several times in the podcast Annalisa mentions receiving the subscription items in the mail. Listeners will need to keep in mind that the subscriptions are now emailed, not snail-mailed to the child.)

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Find a sample of the beautiful icon line art which Kiah Boyd creates for St. John’s Clubhouse here. (This one was for Pentecost.) https://www.facebook.com/2088291571190702/photos/a.2169450139741511/2497858676900654/?type=3&theater

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“I just love Saint John of San Francisco! Our family had the amazing opportunity to visit his relics when we lived in California. We got to go to the home that had been the location of the orphanage he began in San Francisco. We got to sit in his chair in his cell and say the Our Father. We even visited the original wooden church he had established and were blessed to have his Philonion (the cape part of his vestments) draped over us as the priest prayed for our family. From then on, each time we have seen an icon of Saint John, it has been like seeing a dear friend. That is our goal with presenting these icon cards…” ~ Annalisa Boyd, offering a bit of the back-story of the St. John of San Fransisco icon card available from SaintsBox.com at https://www.saintsbox.com/product/saint-john-of-san-francisco-saint-card/

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