Monthly Archives: April 2014

Gleanings from a book: “Conversations With Children” by Sister Magdalen

Sister Magdalen, of the Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex, England has been working with children and helping them grow in their Orthodox faith for many years. In 2001 she published a book called Conversations With Children: Communicating our Faith. The book walks the reader through important tenants of the faith, via many of Sister Magdalen’s conversations with children.

The book is divided into three chapters. “Theology has a direct relevance to the Christian education of children. Those who speak with children need a vision of the human person God calls us each to become; this is therefore the focus of Chapter 1. Chapter 2 concentrates on the educator’s vocation to be a channel of life-giving Tradition… Occasionally I give … talks in a more formal setting… to young people… Some of these feature in Chapter 3.” (pp. 14 – 15) Each chapter is divided into sub-headings, where Sister Magdalen writes about the topic of the subheading, and then incorporates quotes from conversations she has had with children regarding that subheading.

Throughout the book, Sister Magdalen refers to the adults in a child’s life as “teachers.” This is intentionally done, as all adults are teaching the children around them: whether by word or deed. “From the outset I remind the adults who hope to learn from this book that children must know us as real people, not merely as educators…. If teachers are themselves grateful children of our Heavenly Father, their children will learn from this attitude more than from anything else… We teach best when we simply enjoy the company of our beloved children.” (p. 16)

She speaks specifically to parents, noting that “parents do most of the practical decision-making that affects children, and their influence is the greatest on a child’s life… If parents are motivated by sound principles, whatever they do is all the better for that. Getting back to basics does a lot to heal any harm already done by parental mistakes… Every one of us… can do something right now to put Christianity into fuller practice, and this will immediately improve our ability to act confidently and wisely as pedagogues.” (pp. 17 – 18)

On every page, the reader is challenged by Sister Magdalen’s insights and her wisdom in speaking to children. It is apparent that she has great love for God’s little ones, and that He has granted her a gift to be able to teach and guide them. And though she is older than they are, she is not above learning from them. She says in the book that the “…conversations recalled here will make it obvious how much I gain from the children.” (p. 15) Thus, the conversations she carries on with children are not only for their growth, but also for hers; and, by her writing, for the reader’s, as well.

This week’s daily Facebook inspirations will feature quotes from the book, intended to challenge our faith and make us better parents (or, as Sister Magdalen would say, “teachers”). May we indeed rise to the challenge of parenting the Orthodox Christians in our homes. Most importantly may even our conversations with our children point them to the Faith.

Conversations with Children
by Sister Magdalen
Published by the Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist
Essex, England

2001

“As the Father Has Sent Me, I Also Send You…”

During the Agape Vespers service, we hear this passage from St. John’s Gospel (perhaps even in many languages): “So Jesus said to them again, ‘…Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you…’ ” John 20:21 With this fresh in our minds, it seems like this is a good time for us to speak with our church school students about missions, if we have not already been doing so. Since Jesus has promised to send us, what/where does that mean?

Take time to teach your students about missions. There are a number of ways to do so:

Learning about missions/what it means to “be sent”:

  • Select a passage from scripture of one or more of St. Paul’s missionary journeys and focus on that story.
  • Tell the life story of a missionary saint, perhaps a “local” one (such as St. Herman of Alaska, for American children) and study the saint’s life.
  • Invite a missionary from your parish to speak with the class about his/her experience.
  • Visit the OCMC’s website for Sunday schools (http://www.ocmc.org/resources/sunday_schools.aspx) or the IOCC’s interactive world website (http://www.iocc.org/kidsmap_frameset.aspx) to see what Orthodox missions looks like today.

Practicing “being sent”:

  • Take the class to a soup kitchen or shelter to serve others food or other necessities.
  • Gather items for needy people (ie: food for a local food bank) and deliver them.
  • Help the students create a plan of action of how they will interact with their family members and friends in ways that will help point their family and friends to Christ.
  • Together, do a fundraiser to support your parish’s missionary(ies); or to send to the OCMC or the IOCC.
  • Help the children learn about missionary opportunities that lie ahead for them, in which they can participate when older (ie: RealBreak in college).

Let us be faithful in helping our students know how important it is that we as Orthodox Christians share our beautiful faith with others. Let us teach them how others before us have done so. Let us also show them the options of ways to do so, today. Best of all, let us take them by the hand and lead them into the service for to which we all have been sent by Christ.

Appreciating the Teachers Who Are Helping Us Shape Our Children’s Lives

Early May brings the opportunity to express thanks to the other significant adults in our children’s lives: their teachers! Whether our children are public, private, or home schooled, there are other adults making an important contribution to our children’s learning and helping us help the children grow up to be wiser and better people. The first full week of May marks “National Teacher Appreciation Week.” Let us take advantage of this opportunity to recognize the effort that others (ie: school teachers, home school co-op teachers, Sunday Church School teachers, neighbors who have taken an interest in our children, godparents, etc.) are making which helps our children to grow. Once we’ve noticed it, let us thank them for that effort!

Here are a few ideas of things that we could do, once we have identified who we wish to thank:

Write a letter or email thanking the teacher for their investment in our child’s life.

Have the child write a letter or draw a picture, thanking the teacher.

Together with our child, bake something special to share with the teacher.

Make a simple craft for the teacher.

Work with other parents to plan a special event for the teacher(s): provide breakfast/lunch/snack or plan a fun “evening out” to invite them to attend.

Collaborate with other families who also benefit from the teacher’s care: put together a themed gift basket, for example, or a book featuring photos of each child in the class along with a note from that child.

Purchase a small gift (or store gift card, restaurant card, gas card, teacher store card, etc.) that the teacher will enjoy, and send it to the teacher via the child.

Select a book to donate to the class library (or school library) in honor of the teacher.

Obtain permission from the higher-ups to throw the teacher a surprise “Thank you!” party, plan related snacks and activities, and have fun making it happen with the kids in the class/group.

There are also many other ideas. We can do something very simple or elaborate, depending on our time and/or ability to do so. Regardless, the important part is that we take time to notice who is putting effort into helping our children learn and become better people; and that we find a way to thank them. They are doing so much for our children: the least we can do is express our appreciation.

And last but certainly not least, let us be sure to remember them in our prayers!

Pascha: the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

It will soon be Pascha! What a glorious time of the year, when we are granted the opportunity to celebrate our Lord’s triumph over death and His glorious resurrection! Let us finish the walk through Holy Week together as a family, with strength, as we look toward the Feast of Feasts!

Here are a few ideas to enhance your celebration:

Together as a family, watch a short animated retelling of the events of this weekend at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3UKd6LQKng, or a longer version at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ndh7cfM7geQ. Discuss what the video contained. Listen for the events shown in the video, during upcoming services. After the services, talk about what was heard: what is in the Gospel that the video missed? Did anything strike your family in a special way?

Pull together learning boxes as suggested at http://www.sttheophanacademy.com/2011/04/revisiting-pascha-learning-boxes.html, a hands-on way for younger children or tactile learners to interact with each night’s service during Holy Week.

Tell (and let your children retell) the story of Pascha, using symbolic items each placed in a plastic egg. See http://www.annunciationakron.org/phyllisonest/pdf/paschaeggsbooklet1a.pdfor http://www.familyvolley.com/2011/04/12-days-of-easter-teaching-easter-story.html for ideas.

Work together to prepare the treats for your Pascha basket. Suggestions of what to include can be found at http://www.holy12.org/holy12/files/PaschaBasket.pdfor http://charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.blogspot.com/2011/04/how-to-put-together-traditional-pascha.html.

Practice singing the paschal troparia in the languages in which it is sung at our church, (here are a few: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SynvdFT-rqU) discussing the meaning of the words with your children. Then we will all be familiar with the words and the tune, and can sing along!

Also practice saying “Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!” in a variety of languages. See http://oca.org/orthodoxy/paschal-greetings for a few. Orthodox Christians all over the world are celebrating Christ’s resurrection with us!!! (See pictures of Holy Week around the world at http://shepherdsguild.org/id66.html.)

Best of all, let us come and see, together as a family! Let us attend as many services as possible, and participate with all of our heart! Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!

Lazarus Saturday: An Appropriate Beginning to Holy Week

In a matter of days, we will be celebrating Lazarus Saturday. What a perfect introduction to Holy Week, and what a glorious way for our Lord to reassure his followers of His power that even conquers death. It was, in a sense a “spoiler alert” of what was to happen in the days ahead!

Lazarus Saturday is the only time in the church year that the resurrectional Divine Liturgy is celebrated on a day other than Sunday. It makes sense: after all, on Lazarus Saturday, Christ raised His very dead friend Lazarus from the dead, a precursor of his own death and resurrection! His raising Lazarus demonstrated Christ’s power over death, giving His followers a reason to hope during the events of the week ahead of them.

Let us make it a priority to attend the Lazarus Saturday Divine Liturgy with our children. What a beautiful way for our families to begin Holy Week, with the joy and hope of a resurrection pointing us all to the hope and joy of our Lord’s resurrection (and, God willing, one day, our own resurrection), to come! It does mean attending Divine Liturgy two days in a row, however… (Molly Sabourin blogs about that challenge, along with why it’s worth meeting that challenge, at http://www.antiochian.org/node/25669.)

Here are a few resources that we can use with our children to better prepare for this special celebration:

A brief description of the feast/the icon of the feast, along with suggested ideas to enhance family participation can be found at  http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/feasts/lazsat.htm.

We can re-enact the story as a family, complete with a toilet-paper-wrapped “Lazarus,” and discuss the significance of the event as suggested at http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2012/03/lazarus-arise.html.

We may read about (and watch a few short videos about) Greek traditions for Lazarus Saturday at http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2011/04/greek-traditions-for-saturday-of.html. We may be inspired to bake “Lazarus Bread” as Matushka Constantina did, and wrote about at http://lessonsfromamonastery.wordpress.com/2013/04/27/lazarus-saturday-baking-lazarakia/.

We can read through the song “Rejoice O Bethany” as a family, making sure that our children understand the words as much as possible. It tells the story so well! Practice singing the song: at least the first (and again, last) verse, so that our children can sing along. Listen to the song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rju5GyVtfnQ

Best of all, let us all attend the Lazarus Saturday Divine Liturgy, and participate in the service. It sets the atmosphere for Holy Week and prepares our hearts for what lies ahead. Holy Week is a beautiful journey, and Lazarus Saturday is the appropriate first step.

O Christ God, when Thou didst raise Lazarus from the dead, before Thy Passion, thou didst confirm the universal resurrection. Wherefore, we, like babes, carry the insignia of triumph and victory, and cry to Thee, O vanquisher of death, Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord. ~ Orthros Troparion for Lazarus Saturday

Saint Mary of Egypt

On the fifth Sunday of Great Lent, we commemorate Saint Mary of Egypt. Her feast day is April 1, but we also commemorate her on the fifth Sunday of Great Lent because she is a model of Godly repentance.

Born in Egypt, Mary spent the first twelve years of her life there with her parents. When she was twelve, she ran away from home. For the next 17 years, she lived a life of gratifying her flesh. She had a life-changing experience when she went along with pilgrims to Jerusalem on a whim, but could not enter the church because an invisible force kept her from being able to set foot in the door. When she saw an icon of the pure Theotokos, she knew that she had lived a life full of sin. She promised to change her ways and asked the Mother of God to intercede on her behalf. After that, she was at last able to enter the church and venerate the Cross.

She spent the next 47years in the desert, repenting. Mary was found there by the monk Zosimas, one year when he made his annual trip into the desert to fast and pray during Great Lent. By that time, she was old and weathered. Still repentant, she fully relied on God for her provisions, and she pleaded with the Theotokos to help her to become pure. She told Zosimas her story, but asked him not to tell anyone about her as long as she lived. The next year, he brought her holy communion, and she walked across the Jordan River as if it were dry land, to partake. The following year, he brought her communion again: only he found just her body, for she had already departed this life. He saw from the writing in the sand beside her body that she had died the year before, right after partaking of communion.

Zosimas wondered how he would bury this woman in the sand. God provided a lion, who came and dug the hole for him to bury her. He buried her with prayers, and then returned to the monastery, at last able to tell others about this woman and how God had worked in her life, bringing her from a life of selfish sinfulness to purity.

Troparion (in tone 8):

The image of God was truly preserved in you, O mother,
For you took up the Cross and followed Christ.
By so doing, you taught us to disregard the flesh, for it passes away;
But to care instead for the soul, since it is immortal.
Therefore your spirit, O holy Mother Mary, rejoices with the Angels.

St. Mary of Egypt, please pray for us: that we may know our many sins and repent; that we, too, will forsake all to follow Christ; and, last but not least, that we may lead our children in repentance and living holy lives.

Read more about the life of St. Mary of Egypt at http://www.antiochian.org/saint_mary_of_egypt or at http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/52503.htm.