Monthly Archives: February 2014

Approaching Great Lent

Great Lent is rapidly approaching! It is time for us to prepare our hearts and the hearts of our children for the work that lies ahead. While Great Lent is not an “easy” time for any of us, it is certainly a wonderful opportunity for us to focus on God and what is truly important to our souls. Lent can be a beautiful time of housecleaning, balanced spiritual climbing, and growing together as a family.

We can embrace Lent as an opportunity for internal housekeeping. Listen to Molly Sabourin’s “Close to Home” podcast about this internal cleaning at http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/closetohome/cleaning_house. May we all cooperate with God fully and become more fastidious with our souls during this lenten season.

We need to approach Lent with the balanced tripod of works of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Read George Tsongranis (assistant director of the catechism program at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Tarpon Springs, Florida)’s take on this, at http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/family/files/balancing_great_lent.pdf. May we indeed work on all three areas in our lives, so that we can stay balanced throughout the lenten season, and be supported in our spiritual climb.

We need to prepare for (and progress through) Great Lent together as a family. Khouria Krista West gives very practical tips for families to approach Great Lent at http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/kwtailor/preparing_for_lent1. May we approach this season together as a family, and focus on growing TOGETHER, rather than allowing the challenges of the season to pull us apart.

“Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, 

take pity on him. If you see a friend being honored, do not envy him. Do 

not let only your mouth fast, but also the eye, and the feet, and the hands 

and all the members of our bodies. Let the hands fast, by being free of 

avarice. Let the feet fast, by ceasing to run after sin. Let the eyes fast, by 

disciplining them not to glare at that which is sinful. Let the ears by not 

listening to evil talk and gossip. Let the mouth fast from foul words and 

unjust criticism. For what good is it if we abstain from birds and fishes, 

but bite and devour our brothers?” 

-St. John Chrysostom

May we all grow closer to God with each day of Great Lent. May we open our hearts to His great work in our lives. May we enthusiastically embrace this time. Most of all, may we help our children learn to do so, as well.

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“The Work of the People” Includes Children

“Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the Kingdom of God.”

These words that Our Lord spoke were so important that they are actually recorded in three of the gospels; Matthew, Mark, and Luke. While they were originally aimed at disciples who were just trying to make life easier for Jesus at the time, they are also applicable to us as Orthodox Christian parents today. How so? Well, while it may feel easier for us as parents (“and,” some might argue, “for the rest of the parish, too!”) to keep our children out of Divine Liturgy and the other services of our church, removing them actually prevents the children (and the rest of the parish!) from fully entering the Kingdom of God as experienced here on earth through the services!

Let us not forbid them. It is our job as parents (and godparents; and fellow church members) to help the children learn how to do the liturgy, “the work of the people.” They are, after all, members of the same body of Christ as we older ones! There are many parallels between the challenges of embracing children’s presence in the church and our own personal shortcomings. Many times children’s actions are to some degree a manifestation of adults’ interior struggles. Rather than giving up on the children or brushing them off and out of our services, let us pay attention to these parallels. Let us allow God to help us to both embrace our children’s involvement in church and humbly learn from these parallels, that we all may be better Christians and do liturgy more perfectly.

  • It is no easy task to “manage” a child during a church service. Let this remind us that it is not easy to manage our own thoughts and attitudes during that same service; and breathe a prayer that God will manage us as we manage our children (actually, better than we manage them: after all, He is God!).
  • It is not fun to constantly need to point a child’s focus back to the service. Let this remind us that our grownup minds also need to be constantly pointed back to the service; and let us be be patient with our children’s inexperience.
  • It is a challenge to keep our children quiet during a service. Let this remind us that the noise generated by our own thoughts and attitudes must be silenced, as well; and hush them while we hush our children.
  • It is difficult to convince children to stand and pay attention for such a long time. Let us allow this to remind us to pay attention and be still before God, in our heart of hearts; and then stand attentively together with our children.
  • It is tempting to distract our children with things that they like to play with during church. Let us remember how difficult it is to focus on worshiping God when we are distracted; and work towards mutually redirecting our focus onto some aspect of the service, instead of onto toys or other distractions.
  • It is irritating when our child whines and complains; especially during church. Let this call to mind all the whining and complaining that God (and our spouse/best friend/neighbor) hears from us; and work on reacting patiently without engaging the negative behavior.
  • It is easy to become angry when our children misbehave during a service. Let us allow those misbehaviors to remind us of how often we fall short, and instead of reacting in anger, ask for God’s grace to help our children in spite of our own failings.

It is work to have our children with us in church. That makes sense, given the literal definition of liturgy, and the fact that we should all be working to fully worship God. We may not be able to perfectly incorporate all of the suggestions above, immediately, but we can begin taking steps toward that end. Our children have been given to us for our salvation, and thus, in humility, we must allow God to work through them, even when it seems that they are being difficult, to help us become more like Him. It is our task as parents/godparents/fellow parishioners to help the children in our midst to learn how to “do liturgy.” Let us rise to the challenge and perform this work that God has given us to the best of our ability.

Try a Little Kindness

It is nearly Valentine’s Day, a time when many of us are thinking of our loved ones and finding some small ways to show them that we care. This is a good time for us as Orthodox Christian parents to model for our children how to show kindness to those we know and love.

While we’re at it, let us also take time to help our children to think about how we can show God’s love to those who we do not know! A random act of kindness is one way that we can show God’s love to others. This is Random Acts of Kindness Week, a week dedicated to finding ways to bless others without recognition or expectation of receiving anything in return. Let us talk together with our families and plan not just how to be kind to and bless those we know, but also those we do not know, as God in His infinite mercy has blessed us.

Here are a few ideas:

1. When shopping, pay for something for the next person in line (for example, pay the bill of the next person at the drive-through window when paying your own bill; buy a pack of gum for the family behind you at the grocery store and leave it for the clerk to deliver; pay in advance for a bagel or piece of bread for the next hungry person who comes into a bakery asking for a handout).

2. Write encouraging notes or scripture verses, and hide them for others to find. For example, make cards to leave in library books a la http://www.coffeecupsandcrayons.com/library-book-kindness-notes/.

3. Make the world more beautiful: clean up trash at a local playground or leave artwork for others to find, as in this stone painting project at http://colormekatie.blogspot.com/2011/11/mrblue.html.

4. Share with needy people. Collect food and donate it to hungry people; making the donation more fun by personalizing the food with a note or picture as suggested at http://curlybirds.typepad.com/curly-birds/2012/02/doing-good-encouragement-for-food-bank-recipients.html. Or put together small kits of basic items to give to the homeless as suggested at http://www.penniesoftime.blogspot.com/2013/04/penny-of-time-adventure-care-kit-for.html.

5. Purchase inexpensive toys, attach a friendly note, and allow your children to hand them out to other children, as suggested at http://www.momentsaday.com/teaching-children-to-think-of-others-a-simple-random-act-of-kindness/.

There are a myriad of Random Acts of Kindness ideas out there. There are even more ideas at http://www.mommysavers.com/c/t/202640/a-mommysavers-challenge-31-days-of-raksor http://www.eatsleepbe.com/2012/02/acts-of-kindness-for-kids/. Whichever project(s) we select, let us complete them with enthusiasm! May we help our children learn that there is much joy in extending kindness to others, as Christ has extended God’s kindness to us!

“4 Preparatory Sundays” ~ by Nichola T. Krause © 2001 by Orthodox Family Life

As we approach Great Lent this year, let us prepare our hearts and the hearts of our children for the journey ahead of us. This article by Nichola Krause was originally published in Orthodox Family Life, in 2001. The dates for each of these Sundays are different, this year, but the background information and the ideas are helpful. May the Lord have mercy on us all as we prepare to walk the road with Him, through Great Lent, to Holy Week, His death, and all the way to His glorious resurrection!

                                                     4 Preparatory Sundays

Every year, the Church spends a whole month teaching us about and preparing us for the Great Fast — why we need it, how we should and must approach it, what it will “do” for us in our spiritual struggles — through the passages read from Holy Scripture during services. In fact, the four Sundays preceding Forgiveness Sunday and the start of the Great Fast are known by their Gospel themes. You can use these four preparatory Sundays as a guide to introduce your children to the Orthodox understanding of the right desire to love and follow God, of repentance and forgiveness, and of humility and the “right mind” for spiritual struggle.

The Sunday of Zacchaeus
(Luke 19: 1-10)

January 28th in 2001

Zacchaeus was the chief tax-collector appointed by the Romans, hated by his own people — the Jews — because he collected money not only for the Empire, but also for himself. He was fabulously wealthy but friendless, and considered the most despicable of sinners. The Gospel tells us that Zacchaeus was very short — in fact, he “fell short” of God’s image! — and had to scramble up into a tree to see the Lord as he passed by in the street. The Lord saw Zacchaeus in the tree, his dignity forgotten in his desire to see Him and repent of his evil, and called out to him by name, saying that He would come to Zacchaeus’ house. The crowds murmured that He was disgracing Himself, socializing with sinners… but the Lord goes to those who need Him, like a Physician to the ill and dying!

The Sunday of the Publican
and the Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14)

February 4th in 2001

At the time of Christ, there were three Jewish sects: the Pharisees, who thought themselves very righteous because of their “superior” religious knowledge and rigorous observance of Jewish law; the Sadducees, who did not believe in the existence of angels or resurrection from the dead; and the Essenes, who led a very strict ascetic life in the desert. The Lord called the Pharisees hypocrites, because they made a great outward show of holiness in their daily lives, but did not truly repent of their sins. They looked down their noses at others, especially “sinners” like tax-collectors and Jewish agents of the Roman Empire (called Publicans) who did not strictly follow Jewish law.

The Lord told a story (called a parable) about a self-righteous Publican and a contrite Publican praying in the Temple to demonstrate that no one should be prideful, even if he commits acts of kindness and righteousness, but should be humble and beg God’s favor with all his soul. Even if he has fallen into the worst evils, he should never lose hope or courage, because he is never far from salvation.

The Sunday of the Prodigal Son
(Luke 15:11-32)

February 11th in 2001

In this parable told by the Lord, the son of a wealthy landowner takes his inheritance and wastes it. When his wealth is gone and he is “down and out”, he recognizes his error and returns to his father, hoping for a position as the lowest of servants in his father’s house. The father greets him with joy, and welcomes him without reservation: he is give his old position — a son of the manor! The elder son, who had never gone away and had always done as his father asked, is resentful… The father lovingly sets him straight: “You are always with Me, and it is fitting to be glad and to rejoice with your Father. For this son of Mine was dead in sin, and he has been revived by repenting over what he committed….”

The Sunday of the Last Judgment
(Matthew 25:31-36)

February 18th in 2001

The Lord came to earth physically at His nativity, quietly and without glory. At the Second Coming, “He will come from heaven with supernatural wonders and manifest brightness. He will come with His body, so that He will be recognized as the One who has come before and freed the human race, and will come again to judge whether it has well-preserved what it has been given.

“No one knows exactly when the Lord’s Second Coming will occur. The Lord kept this hidden even from the Apostles, but He did allow for some visible signs to take place in the meantime. Some of the saints have expanded on the description of these signs. In any case, it is said that it will occur after the passage of seven thousand years of human history. Prior to the Lord’s reappearance, the Antichrist will come. He will be born, as St. Hippolytus of Rome says, of a defiled woman who will appear to be a virgin and will be from the Jewish race, from the tribe of Dan, one of Jacob’s sons. He will live a life imitating that of Christ. He will perform miracles, such as the ones Christ did, and will even raise the dead. Yet, all that he shall do will be an illusion: his birth, his flesh, and so on, as the Apostle Paul says: ‘The coming of the lawless one is according to the works of Satan, with all powers, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved’ (II Thessalonians 2:9-10). But, as St. John of Damascus says, Satan will not himself be transformed into flesh, but a man born of fornication will accept into himself all the activity of Satan. He will suddenly rise up in rebellion. Then he will appear to be kind and accommodating to all. There will be a great famine and he will supply the people with food. He will study the Holy Scriptures and practice fasting. Forced by the people, he will be proclaimed king. He will greatly love the Jewish race, restore them to Jerusalem, and build their temple.

“According to the Holy prophet Daniel, seven years before the end, St. Enoch and St. Elijah will come preaching to the people not to accept the Antichrist. He will imprison them, torture them, then behead them. Those people who choose to live piously, keeping their true religion, will flee far away. Finding them in the mountains, the Antichrist will tempt them by means of demons, but those seven years will be shortened for the sake of the elect. There will be a great famine, with all the elements undergoing a change, such that almost all living creatures will be obliterated.

“After this, suddenly, like lightning from heaven, the Lord will appear, preceded by His precious Cross. A boiling river of fire will go before Him, purifying all the earth of its defilements. The Antichrist will immediately be captured , together with those who have server him, and will be delivered to the eternal fire.

“When the angels have sounded the trumpets, then the entire human race will at once come together from the ends of the earth and from all the elements to Jerusalem — for Jerusalem is the center of the center of the world. Here thrones will have been set up for judgment. Yet each person will be with his own body and soul, all of which will have been transfigured and made incorruptible, and all will have one appearance. The elements themselves will have undergone an alteration for the better.

“With a single word, the Lord will separate the righteous from the sinners. The workers for good will go to receive eternal life and the sinners eternal torment. We ought to know that when He comes again, Christ will not require fasting or miracles, though these are good, but rather works of mercy and compassion, which are far better. According to the Gospel of St. Matthew, both the righteous and the sinners will be judged according to six requirements: giving food to the hungry, providing drink to the thirsty, showing hospitality to the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and visiting prisoners. By rendering these acts of compassion to the least of our brothers, we perform them for Christ Himself. Since these six requirements can be carried out by everyone, and where on earth, it can be understood why His judgment shall be a just one. Through this realization that God is manifested in love, every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.”

Taken from the Synaxarion of the Lenten Triodion and Pentecostarion, edited by Fr. David Kidd and Mother Gabriella Ursache, Rives Junction, Mi.: HDM Press, 1999., pp. 35-37.

Some Things To Do

*Read the Gospel for each Sunday at home as a family during the preceding week. Ask younger children to color a copy of the icon, or write their own to illustrate the story, to help them remember the events and people.

*Ask children to recall events for their own lives when they behaved like the people discussed in each Gospel and share them. For example, did they try to change a habit only to be ridiculed, or look down on someone else for doing the same thing they did (or still do)? Did they whine or become defensive when affection or acknowledgement was given to a sibling or classmate who made a special effort?

*Choose a family project for the next year that allows you to perform some act of mercy together. You might consider working at (or starting) a community hot meal program, writing to your parish shut-in and hospitalized parishioners every week, etc.

by Nichola T. Krause

© 2001 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).
URL: http://www.theologic.com/oflweb. This web site is donated and maintained by TheoLogic Systems, which provides software and information tools for Orthodox Christians and parishes world wide.

Article used by permission.