Monthly Archives: December 2013

Preparing for Nativity: The Nativity Icon

As we draw nearer to celebrating the Nativity of our Lord, for many of us, there is so much going on. We have presents to purchase and wrap, baking/cooking/cleaning to do, extra events to attend with our children, decorating to do, and even more church services to attend! Everything clamors for our attention, and we are caught up in the wave of busyness.

This is the perfect time for us to pause, even just for a moment, with our children and look closely at the icon of the Nativity. We may have seen it many, many times; but now is the time to really look at it. Talk about a lot going on! This icon may appear serene, at first glance, but if one truly studies it, there is so much to see: and much to learn.

If you are unfamiliar with all that is depicted on the icon, a great explanation of the icon is found at http://iconreader.wordpress.com/2010/12/24/the-nativity-icon/. It may be helpful to read that explanation before looking at the icon with your children. Then, together as a family, visit http://www.antiochian.org/icons-explained-nativity for an interactive icon with brief explanations of each major part of the icon. There’s a black and white printable icon at http://www3.telus.net/public/josaphat/Newsletters/December_21th_Bulletin_extra.htm, with explanations, as well.

After reading about the icon together, you may want to allow your children to color their own copy of the icon such as is found at http://www.holytransfiguration-oca.org/icon16_nativity_christ.htm. You could do a Nativity icon craft such as is found at http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2011/11/christmas-orthodox-craft-ornaments.html. Whatever you choose to do, display the results in a place that reminds the whole family of what this celebration is all about.

Blessed Nativity Fast!

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“A lesson from St. Dimitri of Rostov on Redeeming the Time” by Father Seraphim Holland

“In the life of Saint Dimitri of Rostov, as told in Blessed Bishop Nicolai Velimirovic’s Prologue from Ochrid (October 28), we can read that the saint was in the salvific habit of chanting the hymn “O Theotokos and Virgin, Rejoice” every hour when the clock struck.

Of course, he was a monk and even a saint. He lived in a monastery, and led a life dedicated to prayer and the learning and keeping of God’s commandments. We poor ones lead a life most often not dedicated to those things which are for the salvation of our souls, but to the cares of this world and self-gratification, even though the evangelical commandments, which St. Dimitri followed so well, apply to all Christians.

We engage in both important and frivolous pursuits, and are often surrounded by people using bad language, and with bad ideas. Everywhere, whether in the office or supermarket, among our families, friends and brethren, or even when alone, temptations, distractions and sinful images assault us. It is very easy to forget WHO WE ARE (that is, who we have as our Father), and to lose a sure knowledge of the presence of God within our hearts as we go about our tasks. Perhaps we say our morning and evening prayers faithfully (perhaps not), but we may go long periods during the day that we do not remember God, or pray even a little bit. To always have the remembrance of God within us is certainly beyond our capabilities for the moment, but we can make a good start by emulating Saint Dimitri’s good habit.

Christian! Strive to remember God at least every hour. Purchase a watch which beeps every hour, or a clock with chimes. Decide upon a short prayer or prayers to say every hour when you are “called to prayer.” Perhaps you may say “Meet it is,” or the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” or the prayer of the publican “O God be merciful to me a sinner and cleanse me.” You may merely cross yourself and call God to mind. The content or variety of prayers is not so important, and is a matter of personal preference. The important idea here is to somehow shake ourselves out of our lethargy at least every hour, so that we do not forget God.

If you observe this practice faithfully, you will begin to see almost immediate results. You will find yourself praying more often, and able to listen to the prompting of your guardian angel, who previously could not be heard above the din. You may notice with unnerving frequency that you were about to be angry or were gossiping, or about to be mastered by some other passion as the clock strikes. If that is the case, then, you have an opportunity to immediately turn to God, and ask forgiveness, then say “your prayer.” It is a much better thing to remember God while sinning, and to turn back to Him, than to keep on sinning and not think about Him.

In our household, everyone has this habit. Every time the wall clock chimes, we cross ourselves. Even our youngest one, Natalie, who is two years old, remembers, and is in fact the self-appointed family sentry who makes sure none of us will forget our duty.”

Notice: This article first appeared in “Orthodox Family”. It may be freely distributed, as long as my name, church and contact information, and this notice are included: Fr. Seraphim Holland, St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, PO Box 37, McKinney, TX 75070;   Phone: 972 529-2754

Special thanks to Dn. Mark Barna for drawing this wonderful article to our attention.

Learning About the Saints: St. Nicholas, December 6

St. Nicholas lived only about 300 years after Christ’s resurrection, but he is still remembered the world over by people of many nations for his good deeds and kindness to others. As Orthodox Christian parents, it is important that we help our children to learn about this wonderful saint who not only was a blessing during his earthly life, but who continues to intercede in behalf of those who need God’s intervention in their lives. St. Nicholas is commemorated on December 6 (new calendar), right in the midst of the American “Christmas Season.” It is especially important for us as American Orthodox parents to help our children learn about the true Saint Nicholas, in a time when the American culture is promoting consumerism/greed and pairing that with Santa Claus.

A good place for us to start is by teaching our children about St. Nicholas’ life. We can begin by reading about it at http://www.roca.org/OA/5/5m.htm and/or http://orthodoxwiki.org/Nicholas_of_Myra. We can listen to a podcast about the difference between St. Nicholas and Santa Claus, (the podcast also includes stories from St. Nicholas’ life as well as ideas for celebrating St. Nicholas Day), from the perspective of an 8 year old at http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/closetohome/the_real_st_nick.

A series of icons featuring St. Nicholas can be found at http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/us-icon-series/. Print a double set of the pictures, to make a memory game for the family to play with. Or, print a single set and challenge your family to order them on a timeline. This will require some research, as the icons represent events over a period of around 1600 years!

There are so many cultural traditions that include St. Nicholas! Visit http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/around-the-world/ to learn about some of them, and maybe try a few together as a family! One Orthodox mom writes about her family’s traditions at http://www.orthodoxmom.com/2012/11/30/st-nicholas-day-traditions-2/.

There are several ways to interact with St. Nicholas, as a family. Sing together about St. Nicholas by learning/singing http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/o-who-loves-nicholas/! Pray, and ask him for help with the prayer at http://www.sprint.net.au/~corners/Dec95/StNicholas.htm.

Then, purpose to act as he did. As a family, brainstorm together ideas of how to be extensions of St. Nicholas to the needy around you. Who needs help? What can you do to help them? How can you do it that they will not know who did it?

These are just a few ideas to help us think about St. Nicholas. For more ideas, check out http://www.pinterest.com/aodce/st-nicholas-day/. Regardless of which one(s) we use, let us purpose together to do something to help our children learn more about the life of Saint Nicholas, and to become a bit more like him during this nativity season.

Through the prayers of our Holy Father Nicholas, Oh Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us, and save us.