Monthly Archives: June 2014

Gleanings from a Book: “Children of My Heart,” by Ashley Lackovich-van Gorp

“You don’t really know the impact of a life-changing experience until you can measure who you were before against who you are now.” (p. 187, Children of My Heart, by Ashley Lackovich-van Gorp)

In this rawly honest book, the author invites the reader to join in on her journey from living as a going-through-the-motions Orthodox Christian (in a crisis of faith) to a prayerful mother of two who is deeply aware of the presence of God and His saints both in her life and in the lives of her children. The reader feels Mrs. Lackovich-van Gorp’s emotions, laughs along at the humor she finds along the way, and is challenged to become more like Christ. The book is easy to read, yet is also rich in both interesting anecdotes and theological concepts. The reader is left with much to ponder.

Ashley Lackovich-van Gorp grew up as a member of the Serbian Orthodox Church in America, and realized after she was married and living/working in Israel that she was not embracing the Faith for herself. Dissatisfied, she set out to change it, to find a way to not just be “going through the motions” of the Faith, but to be living it from her heart. She began to faithfully pray the Jesus Prayer, regularly visit the tomb of Christ, and earnestly pray to Saint Xenia, but nothing seemed to make a difference in her heart. Doggedly, she pressed on toward her goal.

One day, she made her way to Bethany to visit a school for girls that is run by Orthodox nuns from St. Mary Magdalene Monastery. Mrs. Lackovich-van Gorp was struck by the nuns’ commitment to the Palestinian girls in their care. “I couldn’t resist admitting to Sister Martha, that , in my experience, Orthodox nuns prayed and did not raise children. Nodding her head toward the three little girls gathered at the window to catch a glimpse of these odd American visitors, Sister Martha smiled and whispered, ‘This is how I pray.’ …for the first time since arriving in Jerusalem, I felt a little leap inside… My soul was stirring.” (pp. 22-23)

Over the course of time, as Mrs. Lackovich-van Gorp spent more and more hours with the nuns and their girls, helping in any what that she could, she began to see God at work in all of their lives. “I understood that I was not part of monastic day care, but part of a real family. These are children who come from the streets, from homes that are not safe, from the darkest corners of Palestine… These girls have no one but Sister Martha, Abbess Elizabeth, and the nuns. To take in children who have no family means becoming their family; there is simply no other way…” (p. 41) When one of the girls was in danger from a family member, the nuns had a plan that involved risk to them and the girl; but the plan was bathed in prayer. Mrs. Lackovich-van Gorp found herself telling the nuns, “I’m praying, too…” and realizing after saying that, that “I meant it. Months before I couldn’t pray, perhaps because I only wanted to talk to God for my own selfish reasons. Now that I was praying for others, the prayers just flowed naturally.” (p. 50)

Throughout the course of the book, time passes, the Lackovich-van Gorps move back to America, and then on to Ethiopia, because of a job change for Dirk. The author finds work, as well, and they enjoy a new life in a new space. Mrs. Lackovich-van Gorp’s work takes her to an Ethiopian orphanage whose director, on discovering that she is both Orthodox and childless, speaks these life-changing words: “Maybe you should go home and pray… Then you should adopt.” (p.119) The Lackovich-van Gorps decide to adopt, not a baby, but an older child between 3 and 6. This decision is further evidence of Mrs. Lackovich-van Gorp’s stepping ever closer to God: “…when you decide to give your life to God—and when your life leads you to adoption—you just close your eyes and take a leap of faith.” (p. 122)

The book goes on through their journey through the adoption process, with evidence of God’s hand on their lives abounding as He not only opens doors for them to adopt a little girl, but also her baby sister. (They had prayed for a baby first, but lay that desire down in effort to be more helpful, as babies are more easily adopted than older children; but in Ethiopia, sibling groups must be adopted together, so the girls were a package deal, as well as an immediate answer to their prayers for a baby as well as an older child.) The book recounts their challenges: from the choice of names for the girls, to the difficulties in finding a car seat, to the joy of becoming a family to the frustration of sudden motherhood. Mrs. Lackovich-van Gorp finds herself praying more and more, not just to God, but also to the girls’ patron saints: “‘You know what my child needs more than I do. Approach God and use the words I cannot find to heal the (girls’) pain I cannot describe.’ …Thank God for His saints, as I do not know how we would have survived without them.” (pp. 147-148)

It seems, by the end of the book, that the author has attained her goal of living her faith from her heart. The book ends, but the challenge does not; neither for her nor for the reader. Near the end of the book, Mrs. Lackovich-van Gorp writes, “..peace with God must be cultivated. Once you’ve got it, it doesn’t automatically linger on… Keeping the faith within requires deliberate, dedicated work. I find true stillness when I step out of my day, even for only a few minutes at a time, with my prayer rope in hand.” (p. 182)

The book’s title in its entirety is Children of My Heart: Finding Christ Through Adoption. While it does include the Lackovich-van Gorps’ journey through adoption, the basic premise of the book is a story of a cradle Orthodox Christian woman finding Christ through the opportunities and people around her as well as the choices that she makes that help her to better follow God. Therein lies the jist of the story. Christian parents who read this book, whether or not they have adopted children, will be challenged in their faith and encouraged to follow God with all of their hearts, and lead their children in the way of God and His Church.

Children of My Heart: Finding Christ Through Adoption  is available for purchase from Ancient Faith Publishing, here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/children-of-my-heart-finding-christ-through-adoption/

Synaxis of the Saints of North America (2nd Sunday after Pentecost)

On the second Sunday after Pentecost, it is the custom of the Orthodox Church to celebrate the saints who have come from the local region. Many of our readers are from North America, and will therefore remember the Saints of North America on that Sunday. Regardless of where in the world we live, it is important that we learn about our “local” saints and teach the children in our care about them, as well, so that the children know that even in our part of the world there are people who have followed Christ successfully. The process of teaching our children about these saints can influence our lives towards godliness, as well!

Here are a few details about North American saints:

St. Herman of Alaska – the first saint glorified on the “new” continent, he lived on Kodiak Island for many years and worked with superhuman strength, including lifting a log that would’ve taken 4 people to lift it. He is commemorated on December 13.

St. Juvenaly – came to the “new land” in the late 1700s, to help teach the natives about Christ. He was killed by a hunting party who was afraid of him because he was a stranger. He died blessing his killers with the sign of the cross. The local shaman was fascinated by St. Juvenaly’s cross, and put it around his neck; however whenever he tried to cast one of his spells while wearing the cross, he found himself unable to complete the spell, and, in fact, hovering several feet above the ground. The shaman took off the cross and warned his people not to harm anyone dressed like St. Juvenaly. St. Juvenaly is commemorated on Sept. 24.

St. Peter the Aleut – was a Kodiak native baptized into the Orthodox Faith by St. Herman’s group of missionaries. St. Peter refused to convert to Roman Catholicism, despite having his fingers cut off one joint at a time… During his tortures, he said, “I am a Christian. I will not betray my faith.” He is commemorated on Sept. 24.

St. Innocent – volunteered to come to the “new land” as a missionary, even though it meant bringing his young family along to a place that was considered unsafe. He learned the Aleut language and culture, to better find a way to tell the people about Christ and His Church. He even developed a written language for the Aleut people, and translated the Liturgy, parts of scripture, and other important Christian things so that the Aleuts can worship in their native language. He is commemorated on March 31.

St. Jacob – born in Alaska, St. Jacob was the first Native American ordained to the priesthood. He worked very hard among the native peoples of Alaska, creating the written form of the Unangan language and translating the Scriptures and other Orthodox writings into the language. He was sent (in his early forties) as a missionary to the southwest Alaskan tundra, where he ministered to the Yup’ik Eskimos and Athabaskan peoples. He is commemorated on July 26.

St. Alexis – a Uniate priest, St. Alexis was refused by the Roman Catholic Church when he was sent to America from his native Hungary. He found a home in Orthodoxy, and brought 15,000 other Uniates with him over the course of his life. Life was not easy for him: in addition to his work as a priest, he worked as a baker to provide for his needs, because his parish was very poor. Despite his meager income, St. Alexis still gave to the poor and shared with other needy clergy members, while helping to build churches and seminaries. He is commemorated on May 7.

St. Rafael – was born in Lebanon, schooled in Russia, recruited as a missionary to America, and could serve the Divine Liturgy fluently in 4 different languages. When he was ordained as the first Orthodox Christian bishop in America, he had already declined ordination as a bishop in Lebanon twice, because of his commitment to the people of America. It was he who insisted that services be served in English so that the young people would understand it and not leave the Church. He helped to write the English language service book and assisted in establishing 30 congregations. He is commemorated on the Saturday before the Synaxis of the Bodiless Powers of Heaven (sometime between November 1 – 7).

St Tikhon – was a bishop in Poland and Russia in addition to the USA. In his 9 years in America, however, he started the first Orthodox Christian seminary; founded the first monastery; and established many parishes. Back in Russia during the difficult time of the Bolshevik Revolution, St. Tikhon both tenderly cared for wounded soldiers and fiercely led his flock, encouraging them to maintain their faith in the face of persecution. He is commemorated on March 25.

St. John (Kotchurov) – was born in Russia, but always felt called by God to be a missionary. He was sent to Chicago, where he established Holy Trinity Cathedral. He and his family later returned to Russia, where he was killed by the Bolsheviks for leading his people in a walk while praying for the salvation of Russia. He is called the “First Hieromartyr of the Bolshevik Yolk and Missionary of America.” He is commemorated on October 31.

St. Alexander – came to the United States from Russia to help with the Church. He was a very good speaker, and also helped to translate publications like “The Word” into English for those who did not speak Arabic. He went on to serve as a priest in Finland and back in Russia before the Bolsheviks finally caught up with him and martyred him for his pastoral activities. He is commemorated on December 4.

St. Nicholas of Zica – was brilliant, with five doctoral degrees from universities in different countries. He was a missionary to the United States, then returned to his native Serbia, spent time in Dachau as a prisoner, was not allowed to go back to his native land because of his faith, and ended up as a refugee in America, teaching at St. Tikhon’s monastery and caring for the faithful until he departed this life. He is commemorated on March 18.

St. John Maximovitch – born in the Ukraine, St. John fled to a Serbian monastery to become a monk and then a priest. He was sent to China as a bishop of the Russian Church in Exile. He later served as archbishop of Paris and Brussels, then was sent to San Francisco. St. John loved everyone, and prayed so often and so well that people would often find him deep in prayer, glowing with holy light, and hovering 6″ off the ground. He was sometimes seen at different places at the same time, without there being any way on earth that he could have been transported between the locations. He worked hard to make sure the Church was a place of worship, not just a social/ethnic gathering place. His incorrupt body can be seen in his cathedral in San Francisco. He is commemorated on July 2.

Find more about each of these saints at http://www.antiochian.org/north-american-saintsand at http://prayingwithmyfeet.blogspot.com/2012/06/all-saints-of-north-america.html

Each of these saints were people who emulated Christ, many of them doing so in the face of adversity. They were successful in following Christ, setting an example for the rest of us, regardless of where in the world we live. May they intercede for us, that we, too, may be faithful!

Learning About the Saints: St. Luke of Crimea

On June 11, the Holy Orthodox Church commemorates a (fairly recent) saint, St. Luke of Crimea. St. Luke lived a faithful Christian life, characterized by kindness and compassion in the midst of difficulties and oppression. In an increasingly materialistic and self-centered society, St. Luke’s example is ever more important to study and emulate. It is important that we as parents learn about this saint, learn from him, and pass on his story and his example to our children.

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St. Luke was born in 1877, in Russia, to a Catholic father and an Orthodox mother. He was baptized with the name “Valentine.” Even though his parents were of differing beliefs, they raised their children to love and serve God by serving others. Although they were not rich, his mother often took food to prisoners and his father (a pharmacist) would prepare medicine for the sick. Being raised in an environment like this had a powerful effect on Valentine.

When Valentine grew up, he love to paint and considered becoming a painter, but decided instead to become a doctor so that he could help more poor people. He overcame his dislike for studying the sciences, and became a promising physician. However, instead of going on to be a professor, as he could have done, he chose instead to serve the peasants as a doctor. When he realized how many of the poor were struggling with blindness, he began studying ophthalmology in Kiev, and caring for patients in his family’s home. He would not accept pay from his patients. While he studied the sciences, he also studied the scriptures.

When war began between Russia and Japan, Valentine traveled by train for a month to the city of Chita, so that he could help to care for the wounded. It was there that he met his future wife, Anna, who was working as a nurse. The two of them married, and God granted them three sons and a daughter. After the war, he worked in different villages and towns, trying to help as many people as he could. During this time, he decided to begin writing a book about the new treatments he was discovering, and so he began to write.

When Valentine was 40, the Bolshevik Revolution began. Life became difficult for Christians in that part of the world. Valentine and his family moved to Tashkent, where he became the surgeon in one of the biggest hospitals in the country. It was a dangerous time for everyone: even the hospital itself had bullet holes, and Valentine often risked his life while he was working to save the lives of others. During this time in Tashkent, Anna became ill with tuberculosis, and passed away. Their children were aged 6 to 12. Valentine prayed that God would provide for the children’s needs, and help him to raise them. God answered by sending a nurse named Sofia, who loved Valentine’s children so much that she became a second mother to them (even raising them and sending them to school in later years, when Valentine was unable to care for them).

Valentine’s deep faith was exhibited by his keeping an icon of the Theotokos in his surgery room. He prayed before every operation, marking the patient with an iodine cross at the location where the operation was to be done. At one point, when the Soviets took control of Tashkent, they removed the icon from Valentine’s surgery. He refused to continue to work without having the icon of the Theotokos present. Within a very short time, one of the military leaders’ wife was in serious condition and needed an operation. They requested that Valentine do it, as he was well known because of the success of his operating skills. He refused to operate on the woman because the icon was gone. Before too long, the icon was put back in its place on the wall of the surgery, and Valentine was able to perform the surgery and successfully save the woman’s life, with the help of the Theotokos.

Soon thereafter, Valentine was urged to become a priest. Although it was a dangerous time to be related in any way to the Church, he agreed, and in 1921, he was ordained to the priesthood. He continued to work as a doctor (considered “the best surgeon in Russia”), while also directing a hospital and teaching anatomy. He dressed as a priest in all of his work, which irritated the authorities in Tashkent.In 1923, Fr. Valentine was secretly ordained a bishop, and was given the name of Luke. Within a month, he was exiled for his role in the Church. Over the next 11 years, Bishop Luke was banished many times, often to Siberia and other difficult places to live, because of his faith. No matter where he was sent, the people were glad to see him. He would serve them as a bishop in whatever spaces they could manage to meet: whether on a riverbank or in a small cottage, he would lead services and encourage people to follow God. He also would help as a doctor whenever possible, healing people’s bodies as well as their souls.One of the most difficult things for Bishop Luke was being so far from his children during this time. They wrote letters to each other, and Bishop Luke prayed for them intensely. God healed the children when they were ill, even though their doctor father was not around, simply through Bishop Luke’s prayers. In the years after these initial exiles, God brought other children into Bishop Luke’s life, as well, for whom he cared as though they were his own. All the young people under his care greatly benefited from their interaction with the bishop, and (among other things) he taught them, “The most important thing in life is to always do good. Even if you cannot do much to help others, strive to do whatever small benefaction you can do.”This teaching was evident time and again in Bishop Luke’s later years. Whether giving his coat to a needy prisoner while himself imprisoned, or working day and night despite his age during World War 2, or serving on Sundays and feast days at a church an hour and a half’s walk over slippery roads away, he did everything that he could to help others. Even at the age of 70, when he was transferred to Simferopol in Crimea, he still wanted to serve others.

There was only one church left in all of Crimea when (by then) Archbishop Luke arrived. There was much famine and poverty, as well. Despite these immense obstacles, Archbishop Luke helped the people by increasing the number of churches to more than 60.

At age 74, Archbishop Luke went completely blind. However, he was able to continue serving. God’s guidance, as well as his years of precision as a surgeon, made him able to be so precise in his service that others who didn’t know he was blind could not tell that he was. Despite this new challenge of blindness, Archbishop Luke continued to serve sick people by praying for them. (For example, a young girl named Galina, who had a brain tumor, was healed by his prayers. She later went on to become a doctor to help others.)

After he became blind, Archbishop Luke’s granddaughter Vera came to help him. She would cook a big pot of food every day in their apartment. The poor, children, and elderly would come to the apartment, looking for the food. Although he ate only once a day, Archbishop Luke would ask each evening if there had been enough for the others who had come for the other meals. He would not allow Vera to purchase new clothes for him. Instead, he always asked her to mend his old ones because “there are many poor people around.” His concern was never for himself, but for others, to the day that he fell asleep in the Lord.

On June 11, 1961, Archbishop Luke departed this life. He was 84 years old, and had blessed the lives of many people in those 84 years. But even departing this life has not stopped him from helping those in need. He continues to bless people who ask for his prayers. Here are two examples: there was a boy whose hip bone developed a disease, whose parents took him to venerate the relics of St. Luke and ask for his prayers. St. Luke visited the boy in the night, blew on the leg, and it was healed. Recently, another boy, a pianist, had fingers cut off when an iron door slammed shut on them. He went to St. Luke’s tomb and asked St. Luke for help. Within days, the fingers grew back (even with nails!), and he is able to play the piano again (better with the healed hand than the uninjured one)!

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Through the prayers of Saint Luke of Crimea, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us!

 

Teaching Children About the Feast of Pentecost

50 days after Great and Holy Pascha, we celebrate another wonderful feast: the feast of Pentecost. This important feast commemorates the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to his disciples: the descent of the Holy Spirit on them. The apostles were then able to go out into Jerusalem and speak to all the people there about Christ: even though they did not speak the people’s languages! Because of that, this day is often called “the birthday of the Church.” This feast is special for several reasons, including the reaffirmation of the Holy Trinity as an entity and the opportunity that Christians have to be unify the world, “undoing” of the separation of languages that happened at Babel, and beginning the Church.

Here are some resources to help us learn more about Pentecost, so that we can teach our Sunday Church School children about it, as well:

  1. In order to better teach about Pentecost, we must first understand the feast. These articles are very helpful, and full of information about Pentecost. Check them out at http://www.goarch.org/special/listen_learn_share/pentecost/index_html ; http://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-church-year/pentecost-the-descent-of-the-holy-spirit; and http://holycrossoca.org/newslet/0906.html. Fr. Alexander Schmemann has written about the feast, as well: read his article at http://holycrossoca.org/newslet/0906.html. Praxis magazine devoted an entire issue to Pentecost, which can serve as a resource, as well: http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/praxis/Praxis-1999-1-1/issuu
  2. “The Feast of Pentecost” from the 12 Feasts series by Mother Melania, is a children’s book about the feast that can be found at http://www.orthodoxmarketplace.com/childrens-products/9782888212433-mother-melania-pentecost-the-feast-of-twelve-great-feasts-for-children.html. Dr. Chrissi Hart reads the book in her podcast “Under the Grapevine,” at http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/grapevine/readings_from_under_the_grapevine_program_7. Either way would be one way to introduce our Sunday Church School students to the feast. Or, we can simply describe it in our own words, at their level.
  3. The icon of the feast is a wonderful teaching tool. We can study the icon of the feast http://iconreader.wordpress.com/2011/06/14/pentecost-icon-as-an-icon-of-the-church/ and read about it at http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/livingfaith/the_feast_of_pentecost. Fr. Noah Buschelli has recorded a child-friendly explanation of the icon at http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/letthechildren/pentecost.
  4. We can help our students learn about the feast and to celebrate it in a variety of ways. Here are a few sources for lesson ideas. For example, there is a preK-2 lesson with suggested activities at http://www.antiochian.org/1120536370. There are lesson ideas and a printable companion sheet for older students at http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2009/05/preparing-for-pentecost.html.

Since Pentecost is one of the 12 Great Feasts of the Church, let us do what we can to help our students learn about it, and then celebrate the feast together!

Preparing for Pentecost

50 days after Great and Holy Pascha, we celebrate another wonderful feast: the feast of Pentecost. This important feast commemorates the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to his disciples: the descent of the Holy Spirit on them. The apostles were then able to go out into Jerusalem and speak to all the people there about Christ: even though they did not speak the people’s languages! Because of that, this day is often called “the birthday of the Church.” This feast is special for several reasons, including the reaffirmation of the Holy Trinity as an entity and the opportunity that Christians have to be unify the world, “undoing” of the separation of languages that happened at Babel, and beginning the Church.

Here are some resources to help us and our families to learn more about Pentecost:

  1. In order to teach more about Pentecost to our children, it is important that we understand the feast, ourselves. These articles are very helpful, and full of information about Pentecost. Check them out at http://www.goarch.org/special/listen_learn_share/pentecost/index_html ;http://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-church-year/pentecost-the-descent-of-the-holy-spirit; and http://holycrossoca.org/newslet/0906.html.
  2. We can read to our children about the feast. “The Feast of Pentecost” from the 12 Feasts series by Mother Melania, can be found at http://www.orthodoxmarketplace.com/childrens-products/9782888212433-mother-melania-pentecost-the-feast-of-twelve-great-feasts-for-children.html. Or we can listen to Dr. Chrissi Hart read the book at http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/grapevine/readings_from_under_the_grapevine_program_7
  3. We can study the icon of the feast http://iconreader.wordpress.com/2011/06/14/pentecost-icon-as-an-icon-of-the-church/  or read about it at http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/livingfaith/the_feast_of_pentecost. We can hear Fr. Noah Buschelli’s child-friendly explanation of the icon at http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/letthechildren/pentecost.
  4. We can find ways to celebrate Pentecost as a family. We can brainstorm together, or glean from others’ celebrations! Here’s a suggestion of a place to start getting ideas for a family celebration of Pentecost: http://charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.blogspot.com/2010/05/celebrating-pentecost-with-children.html.

This feast is celebrated for eight days. Let us find ways during those days to learn with our children more about the Feast of Pentecost, celebrate the Church’s birthday, and live in the reality of the presence of the Holy Trinity in our lives!