A Handful of Resources to Help Us Better Care for Children with Invisible Disabilities

About a month ago, I came across an offer for a small book about children living with mood disorders. Since we at the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education are always looking for resources for families and teachers that we can then share with you, I requested a copy. My intent was to read the book and offer here a few gleanings from it, highlighting it as a resource. As I inquired about the availability of the book (it was published in 2003), I learned that there are not many hard copies left. However, Matushka Wendy Cwiklinski, who sent the book to me, has so many other resources up her sleeve that this journey has ended up being not so much about the book itself as about helping us to become more aware of invisible disabilities (including those that the book addresses) and offering resources that can help us to best care for (and about) those living with such disabilities.

The little book that started all of this is called “The Storm In My Brain: Kids and Mood Disorders (Bipolar Disorder and Depression)”. It was written by Martha Hellendar, one of the founders of the Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation. It was published by CABF and Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. It introduces mood disorders in child-friendly terminology, explains how it may feel to experience the disorder, recommends ideas of what to do when you’re feeling that way, and offers reassurance that the disorder does not make the person experiencing it a bad person. In addition to this helpful information for children, the book contains a page of tips for parents, and another for teachers. Anyone living or working with children with mood disorders will benefit from reading this little book. You will find a link to the pdf of the book below.  But there are many invisible disabilities besides mood disorders. We will share a few resources related to those, below, as well.

Perhaps you do not know a child with a mood disorder or any other invisible disability, and this is not part of your personal experience. Believe it or not, these resources still apply to you! Why? Well, chances are that you DO know a child (or adult) struggling with an invisible disability; they are just working very hard to keep it invisible, and succeeding – at least keeping it invisible to you. This means they are carrying this cross and struggling this struggle, alone. In order to better understand and help, we encourage you to familiarize yourself with these disabilities and the resources available to help those living with them. And why should you do that? St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, wrote, “the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.” (1 Cor. 12: 25-27 NKJV) The statistics are such that we can safely say that all of us have fellow parishioners who are part of our Body (the Church), living with an invisible disability as part of their cross, their struggle. If we take the time to learn a little about what they are experiencing, we can more easily pray for them; more effectively care for them; and more joyfully welcome these brothers and sisters. In that sort of atmosphere, these precious ones will be better able to contribute their valuable gifts to the Body, and, together, we will all be blessed!

While “The Storm in my Brain” is not readily available as a hard copy, you can find it online here: http://www.dbsalliance.org/pdfs/storm.pdf

Note: Since the book was published, The Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation has joined forces with the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, whose mission statement reads, “DBSA provides hope, help, support, and education to improve the lives of people who have mood disorders.” Find them on the web at www.DBSAlliance.org.
Here are some of Matushka Wendy’s writings and other links that can be helpful as we meet, love, and care for others with invisible disabilities. What resources are you aware of, which the community would benefit from knowing about? Please share them!

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Matushka Wendy started a Facebook group called “Koinonia for Exceptional Orthodox Families”, which is described as “a place for Orthodox parents of Exceptional Children to find support from other parents – sharing ways to help keep our children(and us) on the Spiritual Journey of Orthodox Christianity.” It is a private group, so if you would like to join, you’ll need to find it on Facebook, request to join, and then await approval. This group is an excellent resource for parents and teachers. It is also a place where families with exceptional children can safely ask fellow Orthodox Christians for help, ideas, and prayers.

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This document by Matushka Wendy Cwiklinski encourages us to embrace all of God’s children (including those with special needs). It offers simple definitions for a number of “invisible” disabilities which, just like any other illness (although these are not contagious), are very real challenges for children and their families alike. It is a useful place for parents and teachers to begin to understand the challenges that some children face. Especially useful to anyone not living with an invisible disability are the “How Can I Help?” and “Other Suggestions for Inclusion” sections.  https://www.academia.edu/9255990/Children_of_God

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How can we be family, the Body, to a child (and his/her family) who is living with an invisible disability? “These families need to have spiritual support to face the sometimes overwhelming challenges that these disorders bring to their households… Offer to help in some way, even if you are turned down. Just the act of offering shows that you are supportive…” Read more of what Matushka Wendy Cwiklinski has to say on the subject in her article at the top of this page:

https://oca.org/parish-ministry/familylife/church-and-the-child-with-invisible-disabilities

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“Children with special needs come to church with two strikes against them: (1) they are a child and (2) their particular challenge may not have visible signs like crutches or a wheelchair would, leading those around them to make judgments and even ask the family to leave because they are ‘disturbing the worship of others.’” Read what our Orthodox theology has to say about children with special needs in Matushka Wendy Cwiklinski’s graduate school research paper (which is very informational, but not so academic as to be unreadable), found here: http://www.academia.edu/7399622/Embracing_All_God_s_Children_Orthodox_Theology_Concerning_Disability_and_Its_Implications_for_Ministry_with_Special_Needs_Youth_in_the_Orthodox_Church
(Incidentally, she completed all of her coursework 30 years before she wrote this paper: and in the meantime, God granted her and her husband children with some invisible disabilities which greatly enhanced her research!)

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“In my experience, many people are not clear on exactly what ‘hidden disability’ means. The following is a list of what the term may encompass:
Autism
Developmental delay
Emotional disability
Deaf and hard of hearing
Mild mental developmental disability
Other health impairments e.g. osteogenesis imperfecta, otherwise known as fragile bone disease, carpal tunnel syndrome
Speech/language impairment
Brain injury
Visual impairment
Reading this list, which is not exhaustive, the reader can see that it covers a wide range of individuals who require special assistance from community resources.” Read about how people with hidden disabilities can benefit from community support and assistance in the article “Additional Observations and Resources for Parents of Children with Hidden Disabilities”,
by Michele Karabin, found at the bottom of this page: https://oca.org/parish-ministry/familylife/church-and-the-child-with-invisible-disabilities

(Also, just before that article, in the middle of the page there is a list and links to a variety of websites that can be helpful to someone wishing to learn more about invisible disabilities.)

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Find a variety of links to helpful sites related to people with exceptional needs here: https://www.goarch.org/documents/32058/2618758/specialneedsresources.pdf/77f65280-5a12-4e7a-b854-7bbf25ea71a0

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Children living with bipolar disorder, as well as their families and teachers, will find help, support, and information here http://www.bpchildren.com/. The presentation on the home page offers a plethora of information to anyone living with or working with a child experiencing BP, and includes anecdotes from a child living with the disorder. It is well worth the 22-minute investment.
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Gleanings From a Book: “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis

Reading through the Psalter is a beautiful discipline at any time, but especially during a lenten period. Sharing this experience with friends is even more lovely. Over the years, I’ve been part of several lenten Psalter groups. Alongside my sisters (and some brothers) in Christ in these groups, I have both struggled and enjoyed the process of reading twice through the Psalms during a particular lenten period. When I heard about Sylvia Leontaritis’ new book “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women,” I was excited to have this pretty-covered version of the Psalter to be my companion book as I pray.

What I did not expect was the chance to pray the Psalter while feeling that I was sharing the experience with a wise best friend. Both Sylvia’s heart for God and her desire to live a truly Orthodox life pour out through her words, simultaneously challenging and encouraging her readers in a way that is usually reserved for dear friends. The tone in which she writes welcomes the reader to embrace her observations, ponder them, and then consider how to implement the ideas for their own growth.

The book begins with a few introductory pages which offer some background and suggested ways to use it; an explanation of what a Psalter group is; and many quotes from Holy Fathers about the importance of reading/praying the Psalms. Prayers to pray before and after the reading are included next. After that, the book settles into a routine. Each kathisma (grouping of chapters from the book of Psalms)’s text is printed right in the book, in numerical order. Every kathisma is printed with a very wide margin, so that readers can make notes right there in the book, by particular verses, as desired. Following each kathisma, Sylvia has written a short meditation (2-3 pages) in which she focuses on a theme from that kathisma or on a particular verse found therein. These meditations are concise, but beautifully insightful and stimulating. Each meditation also includes a related quote from a saint or Church Father which enhances the meditation.

Following each meditation are a number of lined pages for journaling. These pages offer the reader space to make this book their own, as they “chew” on a particular portion of the kathisma or interact with Sylvia’s meditation. These pages are a place to record thoughts and learnings. Each journaling section is large enough that even if the reader is one who regularly joins Psalter groups, there’s plenty of space to write, even multiple times. Readers who jot notes and learnings every time they pray the kathismas will find the book to become a record of their own growth, as they read back over what (and how) they were learning at points along their journey.

The Psalms address a variety of problems/difficult circumstances common to humankind. Sylvia mentions in her introduction that St. Arsenios of Cappadocia considered the Psalms to be a Book of Needs. “Songs of Praise” closes with a topical index of Psalms, as gleaned from St. Arsenios. The index makes appropriate Psalms easy to find and read in an hour of need.

Orthodox Christian women who desire to grow in their journey with God will be grateful for this beautiful tool. “Songs of Praise” has the potential to greatly help any woman who will put some thought, time, and prayer into her study of the Psalter. All who set aside time to read it carefully, meditating on the words with pen in hand, will be blessed.

Sylvia writes in the introduction that her hope “is that this book will inspire women everywhere to make the art of praying the Psalter part of their daily routine. I pray it will encourage each of us to put down our devices, let go of the trivial and temporary connections they entice us with, and reach for something better that will connect us eternally. Make the following pages feel like home to you—highlight, scribble, circle, dog-ear, tape photos, and refer back to them whenever your heart needs a hug…. I’m so grateful to be walking hand in hand with you as we strive to learn God’s ways and offer up these songs of praise.” (pp. 6-7)

I am of the opinion that Sylvia’s book has accomplished her mission. It has, at least, for me. I have already been blessed through this first reading, and I look forward to reading it more carefully again (and again!) and gleaning even more wisdom and encouragement.

Find “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/songs-of-praise-a-psalter-devotional-for-orthodox-women/

Here are some gleanings from the book:

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“Even if I’m having a rough day—perhaps especially if I’m having a rough day—focusing my thoughts on all the good things in life always chases away the negative. It’s hard to be discontented when you’re counting your blessings.
Prayer journaling is a great way to remind yourself of all the ways God works in your life. It’s a creative way to express your thoughts and feelings to God. After all, isn’t that what the psalms were to David as he wrote them?”

(p. 26, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“The world needs more women who are courageous enough to do what makes them holy—not happy. Women should be confident in their natural beauty… True beauty moves in stages, and we should trust God to continue transforming us into what He created us to be… Beside my bed, I have icons of some of my favorite Orthodox women… They are the women I look up to, the ones I want to be like ‘when I grow up.’ And I’ll tell you, I can’t imagine a single one of them fretting over gray hairs or crow’s feet.”

(pp 77-78. , “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“It hurts to be broken, but how we react to that pain is what determines whether it turns us into diamonds or destroys us. Pain can make us bitter and afraid, or it can make us strong and courageous so that we have nothing to fear when the hour of trial arrives yet again.”

(p. 96, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“I remember hearing that when a holy person enters a place, he or she can immediately sense its spiritual atmosphere. I have often wondered what our home feels like to a spiritual person.
As keepers of a home, we are largely responsible for that atmosphere. Not only should our homes be clean and welcoming, they should be spiritual.”

(p. 134, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“Many times we read about saints, such as St. John the Baptist and St. Seraphim of Sarov, who left the world and went into the wilderness for a certain amount of time to reconnect with God. This wasn’t a concept for them alone; it is a call to every one of us. It is a call to remind us that every so often we need to take a time-out, leave our worldly cares behind, and seek Him in the wilderness.”

(p. 170, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“Take control of the things you grant entrance into your heart. Be watchful of the things you pacify yourself with. Give thanks for the mundane and savor the simple. Most often, the most extraordinary things in our lives aren’t really things at all and are hidden away in the most ordinary of days.”

(p. 189, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“As Orthodox Christians, we don’t go door to door preaching our faith; we live it in our own lives and trust God to do the rest. There’s a common misconception out there that Christians are supposed to be perfect. But you know what? There’s no such thing. A good Christian is not perfect. A good Christian is struggling. We do our best to follow the path of Christ, but we will fall a million times along the way. What makes us different is that we have the Church to help us up each and every time we fall, through the Mystery of Confession.”

(p. 226, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“For us as busy women, it’s impossible not to multitask to some extent, but as Orthodox women, we have to remember the healing power of being still. It’s in those moments of stillness that the fog is wiped from our glasses and we see life for what it truly is—a beautiful mess. The days are long sometimes, but the years are much too short. I, for one, want to stop and breathe in every crazy-beautiful-messy moment I’m blessed to see.”

(p. 259, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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46523739_10215763335788148_6425190565654036480_n-001“Life is so much fuller when we set limitations on the virtual world. There’s more time to read or knit or take a walk or snuggle with our littles without distraction. Decide which life is really worth investing in—your spiritual life or your virtual one—and then fill it with the things that truly make your heart happy. If we struggle to fill our lives with good and spiritual things and constantly have prayer on our lips, there will be no room left for the unholy.”

(p. 314, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“As parents, our number one priority is to teach our children to live as true Orthodox Christians. Otherwise, the world will teach them not to.”

(p. 332, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“The lives of the saints are living examples of how to live a life dedicated to God in a fallen and sinful world. They teach us how to overcome our passions and grow spiritually. The saints are arrows in our spiritual quiver. Everything about their lives points the way to Him. Let us never doubt or underestimate the power of their speedy intercessions.

‘What does the daily invocation of the saints signify? It signifies that God’s saints live, and are near us, ever ready to help us, by the grace of God. we live together with them in the house of our Heavenly Father, only in different parts of it. We can converse with them, and they with us. God’s saints are near to the believing heart, and are ready in a moment to help those who call upon them with faith and love.’ ~ St. John of Kronstadt”

(pp. 350-351, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“Even in our day and age, there are so many people in need of the most basic of life’s necessities. While we may not be able to make a difference for everyone, if we just make a difference for someone, that is enough.”

(p. 365, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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If “Songs of Praise: a Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis inspires you to do more journaling related to the scriptures, you may find some of the ideas in this blog post helpful:

https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/02/03/on-learning-the-scriptures-by-creating-a-scripture-journal/

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On Giving Thanks in All Things

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5: 16-19, OSB)

Life as a Christian offers us the challenge of trying to follow God and fulfill His will for our life as best we can. Throughout our life, we wonder, “What is God’s will for my life? What should I do? What choice(s) should I make that will align with His will?”

When we read the scriptures, we find the answer to those questions in one of St. Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5: 16-19, Orthodox Study Bible) God in His mercy has offered us these three doable tasks which accomplish His will for us. His will is that we do everything with rejoicing, prayer, and thanksgiving.

These actions of rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks are not big projects, jobs, or major decisions, are they? But neither are they simple: they require effort! They demand that we make a conscious (and constant!) endeavor to act in ways that may not come easily to us. Each requires us to have a certain attitude (of joy, prayerfulness, and thanksgiving) and then to act on that attitude (by rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks).

We have written before about the “pray without ceasing” portion of God’s will for us (see https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/08/09/on-practical-reminders-to-pray/). At this time of year, those of us who are Americans are thinking about being thankful as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, so it seems a natural time to ponder the next part of God’s will for us: giving thanks in everything.

St. Paul writes, “in everything give thanks.” At Thanksgiving, it’s fun to think about what we’re thankful for – our Lord’s great mercy towards us, our home, our family, our Church, our food, etc. We should be thinking of those things, and it is right for us to give thanks for them. But St. Paul does not write, “in the good things in your life” or “in the things that you like about your life give thanks.” Nope. He writes “in EVERYTHING give thanks.”

Wait, so if we are to give thanks in everything, that means that in our illness, in our loneliness, in our depression, in our anxiety, in our loss, in our struggle, we give thanks?!? How do we really do that? And why?

The how is perhaps the most difficult part. When we are experiencing struggle, it is so hard to reach outside of that struggle; or to even think beyond it. Our struggle is a black cloud, suffocating (sometimes literally) even our ability to breathe. How can we give thanks in that?!? Fr. Stephen Freedman’s blog post “Giving Thanks for all Things” (see link below) states that genuine thanksgiving is centered in accepting God’s will. “The acceptance of God’s will is the very heart of giving thanks. To give thanks is to recognize first that what has come your way is a gift, and second, that the giver of every gift is the good God. Many become troubled at the thought of giving thanks for something terrible (a disease or accident). This giving of thanks is not a declaration that the thing itself is good, but that God Himself is good and that He works in and through all things for our salvation.” He shares the struggles of Elder Thaddeus of Vatovnica, who experienced anxiety and depression for years before coming to understand the importance of accepting God’s will and truly trusting His control of our circumstances (as well as His promise to carry us through our trials). He said, “I realized that we all worry about ourselves too much and that only he who leaves everything to the will of God can feel truly joyous, light, and peaceful.” Fr. Stephen’s article goes on to offer a prayer that he prays when he finds himself in such circumstances. This prayer may be helpful to us, as well: “For myself, I pray, ‘Give me grace, O Lord, to accept all that you give, for you are good and Your will for me in all things is good.’” Then he continues, “I often add words such as, ‘Blessed be the Name of the Lord.’” Abba Macarius offered a similar – though more brief – prayer. He said, “There is no need at all to make long discourses; it is enough to stretch out one’s hand and say, ‘Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy.’ And if the conflict grows fiercer say, ‘Lord help!’ God knows very well what we need and He shows us His mercy.”

Besides the how of giving thanks in all things, the why is also a challenge. Why should we give thanks in painful experiences? St. John Chrysostom said, “The mark of a soul that loves wisdom always gives thanks to God. If you have suffered evil, give thanks and it is changed to good… Give thanks even in disease, lack of possessions, or false accusations.” (Note: St. John didn’t just say this—he lived it. He was old when he was exiled because of an empress who didn’t like that his teachings did not support her vain and selfish lifestyle. While still traveling to his place of exile, he became sick and departed this life. His final words? “Glory to God in all things.” Even old, ill, unjustly exiled, and in pain, St. John gives thanks to God.) So, according to St. John Chrysostom, giving thanks to God in all things can help to change evil to good in our life. As Elder Thaddeus mentioned above, giving thanks in all things demonstrates that we truly trust God, that He is truly in control of our life, and that He will indeed not give us more than we can handle. 1 Corinthians 10:13 offers us hope in this regard: “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (NKJV) In the Philokalia, St. Antony the Great offers this reason to give thanks in all things: “The truly intelligent man pursues one sole objective: to obey and conform to the God of all. With this single aim in view, he disciplines his soul, and whatever he may encounter in the course of his life, he gives thanks to God for the compass and depth of His providential ordering of all things. For it is absurd to be grateful to doctors who give us bitter and unpleasant medicines to cure our bodies, and yet to be ungrateful to God for what appears to us to be harsh, not grasping that all we encounter is for our benefit and in accordance with His providence. For knowledge of God and faith in Him is the salvation and perfection of the soul.”

Perhaps, (especially if we are celebrating Thanksgiving) in addition to noticing all the good things in our life and taking time to thank God for them, we can also select one of the difficult things in our life to think—and thank—about. Just one, for now: everything might overwhelm us! Let’s take a moment to look objectively at our life and compare ourselves now to how we were before this difficult thing happened or began to happen in our life. Have we grown at all? Thanks be to God! Do we see Him rooting out some sin in our life or beginning to bringing healing to us through this thing? Thanks be to God! Is this thing helping us to reach out to others because we need their help in this thing, or because it helps us to better understand some similar thing that they have experienced? Thanks be to God! Can we see no growth in us except a deeper trust in God’s goodness and love? Thanks be to God! As we learn to give thanks for this one thing, we can begin to give thanks for a second, third, and so on. One day, God willing (and by His grace), we will truly give thanks in everything. That is, after all, the will of God in Christ Jesus for us!
Find Fr. Stephen Freedman’s article mentioned above, here: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2017/06/21/cross-gods-glory-things/

Here are some links related to giving thanks that may help us in this effort:

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The Akathist of Thanksgiving is a favorite akathist to pray, especially at this time of year. Here’s a blog post that introduces the akathist, in case you are not familiar with this beautiful way to give thanks: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/giving-thanks/

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If you are celebrating Thanksgiving at this time of year, you may want to consider incorporating the Akathist of Thanksgiving into your celebration. Here are a few suggestions of ways to do that: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/11/19/incorporating-the-akathist-of-thanksgiving-into-a-thanksgiving-celebration/

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Want to help your kids think about thanksgiving and/or being thankful? Here are a few books that could help. What others do you recommend? https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/11/18/to-celebrate-picture-book-month-with-books-about-thankfulness/ 

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Perhaps these practical suggestions will help you to build gratitude in your life: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/on-living-a-life-of-gratitude/

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Gratitude is one of the virtues. Learn more about it in this blog (in case you missed it): https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2018/03/21/on-pursuing-virtue-gratitude/

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“The life that we are called to live as Christians is the ‘eucharistic’ life [eucharistein = to give thanks]. It is the most essential activity for humanity… That for which we cannot or will not give thanks is that which we are excluding from the Kingdom – from the possibility of redemption in Christ… The limitations of our thanks (which is quite common) is also a limitation on God’s grace, refusing for His grace to work in all the world and for it to work in the whole of our own lives.” ~ from “The Difficult Path of Giving Thanks” by Fr. Stephen Freeman https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2011/02/09/the-difficult-path-of-giving-thanks/

This blog post offers insights into the importance of living thankfully, and will challenge (and encourage!) its readers.

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On the Sacraments: the Sacrament of Holy Unction

This post is the last in a series about the sacraments of the Orthodox Christian Church. In this post, we will look at the Orthodox Christian Sacrament of Holy Unction.

When we hear the words “Holy Unction,” we may immediately think of the special service during Holy Week in which the Holy Oil is set apart and blessed. That is an important time in the life of the Church, for all of Her members are invited to participate in the sacrament of Holy Unction for the healing of their souls and bodies during that service. But there is much more to Holy Unction than that service! The Orthodox Study Bible defines Unction as “anointing of the sick with blessed oil, for the healing of body and soul. The gift of healing is bestowed by the Holy Spirit through the anointing, together with the prayers of the Unction service.” (1, pp. 1789-1790)

Holy Unction is an important sacrament, for healing is really what the Church is about. Our Lord Himself came to earth in the first place to “bear our infirmities,” not just of body, but also of soul. He brought healing to many in his years on earth, and He continues to heal (body and soul) through the Church, especially in the sacrament of Holy Unction.

Father Thomas Hopko, in his writings about the sacraments, calls the sacrament of Unction “the Church’s specific prayer for healing.” He says, “If the faith of the believers is strong enough, and if it is the will of God, there is every reason to believe that the Lord can heal those who are diseased.” (2)

Fr. Thomas writes that the primary purpose of Holy Unction is healing of the physical body and of mental ills, but also healing of the spirit through forgiveness. “Holy unction is the sacrament of the spiritual, physical, and mental healing of a sick person whatever the nature or the gravity of the illness may be.” (2) He reminds us that “the proper context of the sacrament” is to pray “that God’s will be done always,” and reminds us that “it is not always the will of God that there should be physical healing.” (2) Sometimes the healing granted through Unction is a physical healing, but always – and more importantly – we pray for spiritual healing; that is, sanctification and union with Christ.

It is a fact that we will all die eventually. Because of this, the healing of the sick is not the final goal of Holy Unction: for even those who experience healing through this sacrament will at some point die. Instead, Fr. Thomas writes that Holy Unction is an instrument that God uses to show us his mercy and to extend the life of some people so that they can live to glorify Him.

When the time for death comes, the Orthodox Church has special prayers to aid the person experiencing the separation of their soul and body. But the Church does not reserve Holy Unction just for that point in one’s life, as some Christian churches practice. “Orthodoxy does not view this Sacrament as available only to those who are near death. It is offered to all who are sick in body, mind, or spirit.” (3)

Glory to God for His gift of the sacrament of Holy Unction!

Sources:
1. Various editors. (2008). The Orthodox Study Bible. USA: St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. (available here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/osb-hardcover)

  1. Hopko, Fr. Thomas (2011, October 5). The Sacraments: Holy Unction. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/holy-unction
  2. Fitzgerald, Rev. Fr. Thomas (1985, June 11). Understanding the Sacraments of the Orthodox Church. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/the-sacraments.

Here are some scriptures and quotes from Church Fathers on Holy Unction, as well as a few resources that you may find interesting and helpful as you study this important sacrament. What resources have you found helpful? Comment below and share them with the community!

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unction

“Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church and pray over him and anoint him and with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven” (Jas 5:14-15).

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“Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. And He said to them, ‘Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And whoever will not receive you, when you go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.” (Luke 9: 1-6, NKJV)

***

“The Lord chose the apostles, that they should be with Him, and that he might send them forth to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils. Every Christian is chosen—chosen for similar deeds, namely: to be with the Lord, through unceasing remembrance of Him and awareness of His omnipresence, through the preaching and fulfillment of His commandments, and through a readiness to confess one’s faith in Him. In those circles where such a confession is made, it is a loud sermon for all to hear. Every Christian has the power to heal infirmities—not of others, but his own, and not of the body, but of the soul—that is, sins and sinful habits—and to cast out devils, rejecting evil thoughts sown by them, and extinguishing the excitement of passions enflamed by them. Do this and you will be an apostle, a fulfiller of what the Lord chose you for, an accomplisher of your calling as messenger. When at first you succeed in all this, then perhaps the Lord will appoint you as a special ambassador—to save others after you have saved yourself; and to help those who are tempted, after you yourself pass through all temptations, and through all experiences in good and evil. But your job is to work upon yourself: for this you are chosen; the rest is in the hands of God. He who humbles himself shall be exalted.” ~ St. Theophan the Recluse

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“You should take some oil on the tip of your finger, and make the sign of the Cross on the sick body part and say: ‘In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…O Lord, heal my spiritual and bodily afflictions, and save me, in the manner that You know.’ Then, you should rub it into the sick body part. This you should do to every bodily member that is suffering. Regardless of whether you are healed or not, you should do this to be sanctified. I have experienced, however, a multitude of cases of astonishing healing. This holy oil [i.e. the Sacrament of Holy Unction] is especially sanctified. It is sanctified on Wednesday or Thursday of Holy Week…” From the book: Letters from Russia, by Archimandrite Sophrony Sacharov

***

“In order to properly approach the mystery of Holy Unction and benefit most from it, we need, as with all the sacraments, to prepare ourselves. The following are listed as five important though not comprehensive means of preparation for Holy Unction for individuals and families.” Read the list here in order to be able to better prepare yourself and your family for Holy Unction: https://www.goarch.org/-/preparation-for-the-sacrament-of-holy-unction

***

“This healing service explores many aspects of sin, suffering and healing; it is a profound and very exalted service of prayer and intercession. One very important point should be made here: During Holy Unction we beg God to remove the sickness—but, in place of illness, we ask Him to give ‘the joy of gladness’ (anointing itself is spoken of as the oil of gladness in the Psalms), so that the formerly sick person might now ‘glorify Thy divine might.’ Therefore, one of the purposes of healing is to enable the sufferer to resume his healthy and active service to God.” Read this article about what the Holy Fathers have to say about Illness, including how Holy Unction helps in our illness, and perhaps turn your view of illness upside down: http://orthochristian.com/106274.html

On the Sacraments: the Sacrament of Marriage

This post is part of a series about the sacraments of the Orthodox Christian Church. In this post, we will look at the Orthodox Christian Sacrament of  marriage.

In His teachings while He was on earth, our Lord told us that marriage is the best way for us to experience what God’s love for humankind is like; as well as for us to see how Christ loves the Church. Fr. Thomas Hopko writes that the most perfect form of love between a man and woman is “unique, indestructible, unending, and divine. The Lord Himself has not only given this teaching, but he also gives the power to fulfill it in the sacrament of Christian marriage in the Church.” (1) Mere mutual love does not provide the depth of unity of spirit and body that the sacrament of marriage offers to a man and woman. The sacrament brings the Holy Spirit into the relationship in a way that binds them together most perfectly. And He continues His work in their marriage throughout their earthly life and on into the heavenly kingdom, as well.

In the early years of the Church, there was not an official ceremony for marriage. Christian couples wishing to be married expressed their love for each other in the church and then their union received a blessing from God which was sealed in their partaking of the Eucharist. When the Church recognized the unity of the couple and their union was incorporated into the Body of Christ through communion, their marriage became a Christian marriage.

Several hundred years into her existence, when the Church developed a ritual for the sacrament of marriage, that sacrament was modeled after baptism and chrismation. Fr. Thomas explains the parallels as follows: “the couple is addressed in a way similar to that of the individual in baptism. They confess their faith and their love of God. They are led into the Church in procession. They are prayed over and blessed. They listen to God’s Word. They are crowned with the crowns of God’s glory to be his children and witnesses (martyrs) in this world, and heirs of the everlasting life of his Kingdom. They fulfill their marriage, as all sacraments are fulfilled, by their reception together of holy communion in the Church.” (1)

Unlike other wedding ceremonies in current culture, the Orthodox sacrament of marriage is not a legal transaction: there aren’t even vows. Instead, Orthodox marriage is a “‘baptizing and confirming’ of human love in God by Christ in the Holy Spirit. It is the deification of human love in the divine perfection and unity of the eternal Kingdom of God.” (1) Fr. Thomas Fitzgerald offers more insight into the sacrament in his article on all of the sacraments: “According to Orthodox teachings, marriage is not simply a social institution, it is an eternal vocation of the kingdom. A husband and a wife are called by the Holy Spirit not only to live together but also to share their Christian life together so that each, with the aid of the other, may grow closer to God and become the persons they are meant to be.” (2)

That type of shared Christian life extends beyond “death do us part.” The Church encourages married Christians whose partner departs this life before them to remain faithful to that partner even after their death, because “only one marriage can contain the perfect meaning and significance which Christ has given to this reality.” (1) (However, there is a service of second marriage for people who are not able to fulfill this ideal.)

A Christian couple who wants to be in complete union of spirit, body, and intellect, as well as social and economic union, will only find that depth of union in the sacrament of marriage. This sacrament places their union in the Kingdom of God, which is perfectly unified, right from the start. When centered  in God’s Kingdom, a couple’s human love can echo Divine love, and will spill out into the world around them through their interactions with each other, with their children, with their neighbors, and even with nature itself. This is how the sacrament of marriage can be the best blessing to the world: when it is lived out as it is intended to be lived.

However, this level of complete union is not guaranteed. “This does not mean that all those who are ‘married in church’ have an ideal marriage. The sacrament is not mechanical or magical. Its reality and gifts may be rejected and defiled, received unto condemnation and judgment, like Holy Communion and all of the sacramental mysteries of the faith. It does mean, however, that when a couple is married in the Church of Christ, the possibility for the perfection of their marriage is most fully given by God.” (3)

Marriage is a gift from God that offers blessings to those who partake. But the couple must enter into this sacrament completely, choosing daily to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, in order for those blessings to be fulfilled. God does not force Himself on a marriage, just as He does not force Himself into any other part of a Christian’s life. However, with humility and self-sacrifice, Christian couples have the opportunity to grow together towards godliness through the sacrament of marriage.
Glory to God for His gift of the sacrament of marriage!

 

Sources:
1. Hopko, Fr. Thomas (2011, October 5). The Sacraments: Marriage. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/marriage

2. Fitzgerald, Rev. Fr. Thomas (1985, June 11). Understanding the Sacraments of the Orthodox Church. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/the-sacraments 

3. Hopko, Fr. Thomas (2016, March 18). Sexuality, Marriage, and Family: Marriage. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/sexuality-marriage-and-family/marriage1

Here are some scriptures and quotes from Church Fathers on marriage, as well as a resource that you may find interesting and helpful as you study this important sacrament. What resources have you found helpful? Comment below and share them with the community!

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“Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.  Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment. For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Cor. 7:1-9 NKJV)

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“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” (Eph. 5:22-33 NJKV)

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“Comprising one flesh, [the couple] also has a single soul, and their mutual love awakens in them a zeal for piety. For the state of wedlock does not estrange us from God, but rather ties us more closely to Him, for it brings forth a greater impetus to turn to Him. Even under a light breeze, a small boat moves forward…., a light breeze will not move a great ship…. Thus, those not burdened with secular concerns have less need of help from Almighty God, but one who has responsibilities, who looks after his beloved spouse, his estate and his children, traverses a broader sea of life, and has greater need of God’s help. In return [for that help], he himself comes to love God even more.” ~ Holy Hierarch Gregory the Theologian

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marriage

“The love of husband and wife is the force that welds society together. Men will take up arms and even sacrifice their lives for the sake of this love. St. Paul would not speak so earnestly about this subject without serious reason; why else would he say, ‘Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord?’ Because when harmony prevails, the children are raised well, the household is kept in order, and neighbors, friends, and relatives praise the result. Great benefits, both of families and states, are thus produced. When it is otherwise, however, everything is thrown into confusion and turned upside-down.” ~ St. John Chrysostom

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“…The husband and wife must lay virtue, and not passion, as the foundation of their love, that is, when the husband sees any fault in his wife, he must nudge her meekly, and the wife must submit to her husband in this. Likewise when a wife sees some fault in her husband, she must exhort him, and he is obliged to hear her. In this manner their love will be faithful and unbroken, and thereby having mutually composed their happiness, they shall take pleasure in the virtue.” ~ St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

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“Dearly beloved, had marriage or the raising of children been likely to prove a stumbling block on the way to virtue, the Creator of all would not have introduced marriage into our life lest it prove our undoing in difficult times and through severe problems. Since, however, family life not only offers us no obstacle to wisdom in God’s eyes as long as we are prepared to be on our guard, but even brings us much encouragement and calms the tumult of our natural tendencies, not allowing the billows to surge but constantly ensuring that the barque dock safely in the harbor, consequently He granted the human race the consolation that comes from this source…” ~ St. John Chrysostom

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“The Bible and human history begin and end with marriages. Adam and Eve come together in marital union in Paradise, before the Fall, revealing marriage as a part of God’s eternal purpose for humanity in the midst of creation (Gn 2:22-25). History closes with the marriage of the Bride to the Lamb (Rev 19:7-9), earthly marriage being fulfilled in the heavenly, showing the eternal nature of the sacrament.” Read more about the sacrament of marriage in the article titled “Marriage,” found in the midst of Ephesians 5 in the Orthodox Study Bible. (p. 1607 in the hardcover version)

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“If you fit the first button into the first hole of your suit, all the other buttons will fall in their proper place. But if the first button is placed in the second hole, nothing will come out right. It’s a matter of putting first things in first place, of keeping priorities straight. Likewise in marriage. Husbands, if you put your wives first—and wives, if you put your husbands first—everything else will fall into its proper place in the marriage relationship.”
Read about the Old and New Testament views of marriage, the sacrament itself, the responsibilites of each partner, how marriage can help both partners’ salvation, and more in this helpful article: http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/orthodoxchristianmarriage.aspx

Gleanings from a Book: “Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas

Author’s note: To the person who posted about this book on social media, thereby alerting me to its existence: thank you! I have not yet met Fr. Chris; and I had no idea that he’d written a book that could be so helpful to both parents and teachers; or that he would be kind enough to send a copy so that I could share read it and share it with you. My own children are grown, but the ideas and information in this book are helpful to me as I relate to them. Hopefully having read this book will also make me a better “fellow parishioner” to the young members of our parish. For all of this, I am very grateful.

Fr. Chris Kerhulas’ book “Parent Points” is small but mighty. In its 107 pages, he blends his 40+ years of ministry experience with personal experience from parenting and grandparenting. Each chapter offers stories, wisdom, and insights into life as a young person, explained in a way which their significant adults can understand. Each chapter ends with “points,” takeaways for the reader to both meditate on and work on in their relationship with their children/youth.

“Parent Points” was an enjoyable, but meaty read. It made me both laugh and cry. It allowed me to reflect/reminisce while also planning ahead for future interactions. Best of all, the book made me THINK. How do I interact with the young people in my life? How can I improve those interactions? How can I help them to grow towards Christ, conveying His great love for them through the way that I treat them?

I found this book to be helpful to me as a parent, as an educator, and as one who is trying to better love all of the children in my life. What set the tone of the book for me – actually, one of my big “takeaways” on this first readthrough- is not even written by Fr. Chris. It is found on very the first pages, in a forward written by Fr. Chris’ friend Robert Krantz, where he talks about Fr. Chris’ interaction with children over the years. It speaks to the way in which Fr. Chris leads by example. “He talked to young men and women about the things they really wanted to talk about. He gave them an open forum to express themselves, never judging them and he gave them one huge gift back; love… Every time he saw a kid struggling… he saw himself. Because of what he’d gone through, he knew each of those kids was special, and had enormous potential, even if the world had not figured it out yet. He was the first one to let each and every one of those kids know they were special.” (p. 5-6) Hearing about Fr. Chris’ genuine love for and respect for each child from the beginning of the book challenged me to read on, to try to figure out how to improve my own relationships with the children in my life. I was delighted to discover that his genuine love for young people comes through loud and clear throughout the book, along with ideas of ways that we can better love the young folks around us.

“Parent Points” is addressed to any adult with children in their life. It contains 13 chapters, with titles such as “The Guilt Trip: Your Behavior is Killing Me!;” “Depression: You Will Be Found;” “Divorce is Death;” “Who Am I? Who Is God, and Where Is He?;” and ends with “I Am Free.” The chapters are not long, and can be read one at a time, or inhaled quickly. Chances are, this book will not be a one-off read: readers will revisit it over the years, in order to better soak in Fr. Chris’ wisdom and check their own improvement. I certainly intend to re-read it! The children and young people in my life need to be loved and esteemed in the ways exemplified in this book. The ideas here will continually help me to evaluate my interactions with them to that end.

In the introduction, Fr. Chris offers this to the reader: “I hope these words of wisdom will be of use and help to bring some comfort and reassurance in your time of need. Remember, you’re not alone—we all go through trials and tribulations, and we are all far from being perfect, but we can always learn from our mistakes or the mistakes of others. If we do it right, our children will also learn to be better, stronger, and more resilient in the face of adversity that awaits them out there in the world.” (p. 14)

This book is a “must-read” for parents, grandparents, godparents, and educators. It would also be a fantastic book study for parishes who truly value their young people. Find information about how to purchase your own copy of “Parent Points” here: https://frchriskerhulas.com/

 

Here are a few gleanings from the book:
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Point #5 after “The Headphone Generation”:

“When opportunities for a live, interpersonal exchange appear, make your child turn off her personal device. Even if her response is angry, you are giving your child the message that she is an important and necessary part of the family. When parents simply allow children to tune out and lock themselves in their rooms, the message, after a period of time, is that their presence doesn’t matter. (“Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas, p. 19)

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From the chapter “Sibling Magic”:

“We may know that our siblings love us, but hearing it and saying it back is a much-needed experience, especially during those difficult teenage years… when older siblings tell their younger brothers or sisters how much they matter and that they are there for them, life—especially in moments of crisis—becomes much easier to manage… When younger siblings have the strength to tell their older siblings how much they mean to them, any arrogance and egotism in the older sibling gets wiped away.. I believe loving sibling relationships are parallel to having guardian angels.” (“Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas, pp. 23-24)

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From the chapter “The Guilt Trip: Your Behavior is Killing Me!”:

“Throughout the ages, parents have wielded guilt as one of their most effective weapons against willful and unruly children… Guilt is what I refer to as a triple negative; it is a negative emotion meant to negate negative behavior. As a disciplinary tactic, not only is it illogical, but it also just muddies the water, making matters worse in the long run. Parents all over the world are going to hate me for saying this, but guilt does no good whatsoever.” (“Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas, pp. 27-28)

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From the chapter “Express Yourself”:

“Learning to express oneself is crucial to stabilize a child’s emotional core and promote healthy growth. Children who are constantly shut out and told, ‘You are to be seen and not heard,’ or, ‘Do not speak unless spoken to,’ rarely grow up to become loving, caring, and thoughtful people. Why should they? If they are not given the chance to express an opinion and weigh in on life around them, why should any courtesy be extended to the individuals they come into contact with? …The abuse of drugs and alcohol causes one to wonder if these issues might be headed off by behavior modification: stopping and listening to what your child isn’t saying… It seems somewhat rudimentary to say this, but both children and parents have the right to express themselves. When that right gets taken away from either party you will eventually have a crisis on your hands.” (“Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas, pp. 33-34)

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From the chapter “Depression: You Will be Found”:

“‘Don’t chastise them or come down on them with a guilt trip,’ I tell these younger clergy. ‘Just be there for them.’ Sometimes a hug or just going to a sporting event or movie with them helps the healing. Unfortunately, many clergy or counselors will scold, frighten, or attempt to shame [a young person in their care]… but what’s more important—casting judgment or helping this young person to heal?”

(“Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas, p. 43; brackets replacing a case study in the book)

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From the chapter “God Can Help”:

“Respect for parents, authority figures, oneself, and God is something parents absolutely need to address with their children… The development of free thinkers and young people growing through their decisions—be they positive or negative—can only be achieved if your children know they are loved, cared for, and belong. What we are really talking about here is providing structure. Parents who are too busy or never around to spend time with their children are asking for problems. Define for yourself and your children what structure means and how it can be their friend not only at home, but also in school, at church, and throughout their lives as they grow.”

(“Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas, p. 50)

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Point #2 after the chapter “Mentoring: Finally, Somebody Gets Me!”:

“Make sure that activities stimulate the mind as well as the body. Sports should be coupled with enterprises like Scouting, board games, theatre, math, or literature groups. Balance is the key component in healthy experiences. When a group’s leader tells you your child’s involvement in a particular activity is deepening, a mentorship may be on the horizon.”

(“Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas, p. 59)

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From the chapter “Divorce is Death”:

“The losers in divorce are almost always the children. And the losses one has to cope with when coming out of a divorce can be even more difficult than losing a parent in death. The positive thing about death is that it allows everyone involved to remember happier times, the beautiful moments, the positive and loving experiences with the recently departed… when a loving (and well-loved) parent dies, pictures are put up all over the house to help us remember the good times and how much we were loved. Divorce tends to bring out the negative and the failures (real or perceived) of the other parent… Pictures are taken down and hidden as if the parent never existed. It’s an attempt to erase the past, a form of denial that can really mess with the children’s minds… That’s the reality of divorce: a death of the complete family unit.”

(“Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas, pp. 65-66)

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From the chapter “I Love You… Now Get Out!”:

“Letting go of your children, but never letting them forget you are there for them, is very tough for every parent. You will let go, believe me, or your child will force the separation, which is something you simply don’t want… As a loving parent, you never want to look back and think, ‘If only I had the chance, I would do things differently.’ Whenever possible, you want to be able to look back and say to yourself, ‘I gave it all I had and loved every minute of it, mistakes and all.’”

(“Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas, p. 75)

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From the chapter “Gifting: Spend That Extra Cash While You Can (You May Never Have Another Chance)”:

“The sentiment that you should give what you are able, when you are able, and with the resources you have available, is as crucial as any lesson you can impart to your children…We never know what lies around the corner in our lives. So, share the love when you can, and in any way you can… but, you know, don’t go completely nuts.” (“Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas, p. 80)

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From the chapter “Who am I? Who Is God, and Where Is He?”:

“A long time ago, a friend told me the following, which I’ve always used in my personal treatment of life in general, and I want you to hear it: ‘I looked for my self, and my self I could not find. I looked for my God, and my God I could not find. I looked for my brother, and I found all three.’”

(“Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas, p. 90)

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From the chapter “A Well-Intended Lie”:

“…Although his parents raised him on the well-intended lie, ‘You can be whatever you want to be,’ they are only interested in their oldest becoming a doctor or lawyer… I have seen this scenario replayed countless times during my forty-three years of ministry. Each time it has come up, I’ve witnessed the damage caused by a conflict between well-intentioned parents and youth who are just beginning to discover where their strengths and talents lie… it subverts the well intended lie by instead effectively saying, ‘You can be whatever we want you to be.’ It is an easy trap for a parent to fall into.

 

“Encouraging children and young adults is important. The world we live in so often focuses on the negative, so parents must be a force of positive encouragement in their children’s lives.” (“Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas, p. 94)

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From the chapter “I Am Free”:

“All young people run into rough patches. Sometimes they just need someone to talk to, someone to assure them that whatever they’re going through is going to get better.”

(“Parent Points” by Fr. Chris Kerhulas, p. 105)

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On the Sacraments: the Sacrament of Ordination

This post is part of a series about the sacraments of the Orthodox Christian Church. In this post, we will look at the Orthodox Christian Sacrament of ordination, or Holy Orders.

The Orthodox Study Bible defines ordination as “The sacramental act setting a man apart for the ministry of the church by the laying on of hands of a bishop.” (1, p. 1784) Fr. Thomas Hopko’s writings about the sacrament of the Holy Orders begin by reminding his readers, first and foremost, that the Holy Orthodox Church believes and teaches that “Christ is the only priest, pastor, and teacher of the Christian Church. He alone guides and rules His people. He alone forgives sins and offers communion with God, His Father.” (2) These statements do not in any way downplay the importance of the “sacramental setting apart” mentioned above: rather, they help to clarify the role of the one set apart. Christ is continually active in the Church through the Holy Spirit, and He is manifested through these men who have been set apart for His service. “The sacramental ministry of the Church—the bishops, priests, and deacons—receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to manifest Christ in the Spirit to men. Thus, through His chosen ministers, Christ exercises and realizes His unique and exclusive function as priest, perpetually offering Himself as the perfect sacrifice to the Father on behalf of His human brothers and sisters.” Through them, He also teaches, shepherds, oversees, and serves. (2)

Why is this sacrament of ordination also called the sacrament of Holy Orders? Fr. Thomas says it is because those who are ordained give order to the church. “They guarantee the continuity and unity of the Church from age to age and from place to place from the time of Christ and the apostles until the establishment of God’s Kingdom in eternity.” (2) The Holy Spirit is given to them in a special way that helps them to do this work, and “manifest Christ’s presence and action in the churches.” (2)

Ordinations have been a part of the Church’s life from the start. Already in the book of Acts, we read, “So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” (Acts 14:23, OSB) The Orthodox Study Bible’s footnote on that verse offers this insight: “Elders are presbyters (priests) ordained by the apostles to nurture and lead the churches they established. The word translated ‘appointed’ (Gr. cheirotoneo) means ‘to ordain by the laying on of hands.’” (1, p. 1495) So, from the very beginning of the Church, per the book of Acts, priests have been ordained by the laying on of hands so that they can carry on the work they have been set apart to do.

“Through ordination, men who have been chosen from within the Church are set apart by the Church for special service to the Church. Each is called by God through His people to stand amid the community, as pastor and teacher, and as the representative of the parish before the Altar. Each is also a living icon of Christ among His people…  the process of ordination begins with the local congregation; but the bishop alone, who acts in the name of the universal Church, can complete the action. He does so with the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the imposition of his hands on the person being ordained.” (3)

Ordained leaders have numerous important tasks, and the work varies from order to order. “In the Orthodox Church to this day, the bishops and presbyters are called to focus on prayer and the ministry of the word, with the other ministries being accomplished by the deacons and the laity.” (1, footnotes on Acts 6:2-4, p.1478) The tasks to which those who receive the sacrament of Holy Orders are called are not easy. They cannot be taken lightly, but the Holy Spirit’s extra empowerment enables these men to undertake all that is set before them.

Let us thank God for those who have offered themselves through the sacrament of ordination. Let us support and help them in whatever way that we can. And let us keep them in our prayers, for we know that we are always in theirs.

Glory to God for His gift of the sacrament of ordination!

Sources:

  1. Various editors. (2008). The Orthodox Study Bible. USA: St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. (available here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/osb-hardcover )
  2. Hopko, Fr. Thomas (2011, October 5). The Sacraments: Holy Orders. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/holy-orders
  3. Fitzgerald, Rev. Fr. Thomas (1985, June 11). Understanding the Sacraments of the Orthodox Church. Retrieved from https://www.goarch.org/-/the-sacraments

Here are some scriptures and quotes from Church Fathers on ordination, as well as a few resources that you may find interesting and helpful as you study this important sacrament. What resources have you found helpful? Comment below and share them with the community!

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“Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.” (Acts 6:1-6 NKJV)

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ordination

“Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.” (1 Tim. 4:14 NKJV)

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“If from one burning lamp someone lights another, then another from that one, and so on in succession, he has light continuously. In the same way, through the Apostles ordaining their successors, and these successors ordaining others, and so on, the grace of the Holy Spirit is handed down through all generations and enlightens all who obey their shepherds and teachers.” ~ St. Gregory Palamas

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“How can one laugh at a clergyman? So what if he serves poorly? He still has grace. He is ordained. One must not, must not, laugh!” ~ St. Anatoly of Optina

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Our society pushes us to push our children to select good jobs. We need to consider what truly constitutes a “good” job, and pray that our children follow Christ’s leading as they seek their life’s work. What is it like, as a parent to watch your child experience the sacrament of ordination? One mother reflects on her son’s ordination to the priesthood here: http://ww1.antiochian.org/content/mothers-reflections-her-sons-ordination

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Learn much about the Holy Orders in this article: http://www.antiochianarch.org.au/Holy-Orders.aspx