Monthly Archives: August 2014

Preparing for School

For many students in the northern hemisphere, it is time to prepare to go back to school for another year. It can be difficult to transition from the carefree days of summer vacation to the rigorous schedule of a school year. But with a little planning and preparation as well as a lot of love, we can help our children to make that transition in a healthy manner!

First and foremost, let us pray for our children. Here is an Orthodox prayer for a child’s first day at school:

“Dear God, here are (names), ready for their first day at school. They have been counting the days. They are so thrilled. Be with them today when they go into unfamiliar rooms, when they see new faces (make them kind faces!), when they stand in the lunch line, when they are on the playground. Keep them close to You as they learn and grow and make friends. Protect them from harm. Watch over them on the way to and from school. And as they become part of a larger world, help me to let them go and gain experience that they will need to become a responsible part of Your creations. Amen.”

Secondly, let us talk with our children. We need to find out what they’re looking forward to, any fears that they have, and how they want us to pray for them as they begin the year. Also, we should continually be talking with them about their faith. Orthodox Christian children in America are in the minority, as far as their Christian faith is concerned, and we can help them to stay strong in their faith even while they’re around others who believe very differently. “Your children need to know who we are (as a Church), so that they will know who they are.” (For the context of this quote, listen to this great podcast or read its transcript:

Let us also help our children to physically prepare for the school year. This may mean gradually adjusting bedtime/getting up in the morning time. It may mean revisiting ideas for packing lunch. It will certainly entail some shopping to ensure that our children have clothes that fit them, as well as school supplies that are needed. If your child has a favorite icon, consider doing this craft together, so he/she can take a reminder of their faith along to school:

To be sure that we are ready for school, it would be good for us to go over this checklist of suggestions from Orthodox Family Life: Although it was first published in 1996, this checklist still is applicable to Orthodox families today. The checklist includes a variety of suggestions for preparing students of different ages for school, and can be a helpful resource to ensure that we have thought everything through before school begins.

Everything that we do to prepare ourselves and our children for the school year will be helpful for their success! Let us pray, talk together, and do all that we can to help our children to be ready to begin the new school year with peace and an awareness of God’s presence with them! May God bless our families as we grow together towards Him, throughout this school year.


The Ecclesiastical New Year

“It is part of the goodness of God, that He, who has no beginning and no ending, the Eternal Trinity, should take such care to give us a year which begins and ends, and then begins all over again. In our human and finite state we need fresh starts, and this is one of them…” ~ Fr. Michael Harper, “The Orthodox New Year”

September 1 is rapidly approaching, and a new Church year will begin. The Ecclesiastical New Year is an important time for Orthodox Christians. Unfortunately, it is often nearly overlooked. This year, let us prepare ourselves and our children to celebrate the Ecclesiastical New Year, remembering its importance, and solemnly celebrate it as the new beginning for our Church year.

Here are a few resources to help us think about the Ecclesiastical New Year’s importance, and plan to celebrate accordingly:

Regardless of which of the above activities we choose to do, let us make it a priority to go to church for the beginning of the Ecclesiastical New Year. As we bring in the new Church year, let us be sure that this celebration is a subdued time of reflection, prayer, and committing our year to God. Let us think about the new year, ask God to bless it, and look for His presence in our lives throughout the year ahead.

O Word of the Father from before the ages, Who, being in the form of God, broughtest creation into being out of nothing; Thou Who hast put the times and seasons in Thine own power: Bless the crown of the year with Thy goodness; give peace unto Thy churches, victory unto Thy faithful hierarchs, fruitfulness unto the earth, and Great Mercy unto us. –Orthros of the Feast, Tone 3

Introducing a Resource: Feast Day “Stand-up” Centerpieces

The feasts of the Church year are important times for all Orthodox Christians to celebrate! The Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education (AODCE) would like to highlight a resource available on their website, which can be helpful to families looking for ideas of ways to enhance their celebrations of these feasts. The AODCE offers free feast day “stand-up” centerpieces which can be printed directly from their website (at onto cardstock. After printing, the centerpieces can be folded according to the instructions on each page, and when the slotted ends are tucked together the page forms a stand-up centerpiece.

Each centerpiece is composed of two different sides that will show when the centerpiece is folded into a stand-up. One side displays the icon of the feast, the date(s) of celebration, and a brief description of the feast and icon. The other side of the centerpiece also shows the icon; and has the troparion of the feast printed beside it.

Here are the printable feast stand-ups (click the links to see them):

The Nativity of Mary the Theotokos (

The Exaltation of the Cross (

The Presentation of the Theotokos to the Temple (

The Nativity of Christ (

Theophany: The Baptism of Christ (

The Meeting of Christ in the Temple (

The Annunciation (

The Transfiguration of Christ (

The Dormition of the Theotokos (

The feast of the Lord’s Entry into Jerusalem (

The feast of the Lord’s Ascension (

The feast of Pentecost (

Pascha (

Here are some ideas of ways to utilize this resource with your family:

1. Print the stand-ups one at a time, as each feast in the church year arrives.

2. After printing the stand-up, encourage your children to color the icons on it. (The icons are small, so colored pencils or fine-tipped markers will probably work best.) While they color, discuss the feast day and the festal icon together. What do you see in the icon? Why is that written into the icon? What can you learn from the icon about the feast? etc. (If you do this year after year, you may want to make notes of the discussion and/or answers your children give to these questions on the back/inside of the stand-up, before you fold and use it, and then at the end of the feast, unfold the stand-up, date it, and keep it in a binder for future reference. It will be interesting to look back, years later, and see how your child’s coloring and thinking skills have progressed!)

3. Place the stand-up where you can see it and be reminded of which feast we are currently celebrating. Perhaps you want to make it a part of your kitchen or dining room table centerpiece, or maybe you will place it in the family prayer corner: wherever it will be seen and can be used as a reminder.

4. Together as a family, sing the troparion of the feast. The words are printed right on the stand-up. (And the music for many of the festal troparia can be found here: Sing the troparion at morning or evening prayers, before a meal, etc. Let the troparion help your family remember that it is a feasting time, and why.

5. At the end of the year, challenge your family a “Feast Day Challenge.” Challenges can include working together to put the stand-ups in order according to the Church Year calendar (without looking at the dates on them). You could also ask each member of the family to tell something that they remember about each feast and/or the festal icon. Another idea would be to have a “fill-in-the-blank” contest where you read part of the troparion, omitting part of it, and seeing who can remember the missing part.

6. Save the stand-ups to reuse year after year, or disassemble them and save them in a binder as suggested above, if you want to keep track of your children’s coloring/answering progress. If you decide not to save them, cut out the two icons from each stand-up and make a matching/ “go-fish” game with the pieces, at the end of the year; or use them to decorate cards for godparents or lonely parishioners.

The feasts are such an important part of the Church year that it is imperative that we find ways to highlight and celebrate them. Creating your own copies of the AODCE’s stand-up centerpieces is a small yet tangible way that we can involve our children in preparing for the feast. After they are made, the stand-ups become a visible reminder of what it is we are celebrating, a resource of information, and a way to keep the festal icon and troparion before us throughout the course of the feast.

Gleanings from a book: “From God To You” by John Skinas

“The icon is a place of meeting where you and God can gaze at each other from the two sides of eternity.” ~ John Skinas, From God to You: The Icon’s Journey to Your Heart, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2014, forward.

John Skinas’ latest book, From God to You: The Icon’s Journey to Your Heart, by Ancient Faith Publishing, August 2014, takes young readers on a journey through the history of icons. Using icons as examples, the narrative offers a glimpse into Orthodox Christian history while explaining what icons are, and how/why they are written.

In the body of the book, each spread focuses on one icon. The spread consists of one full-color icon, its title, something specific to notice/look for in the icon, and a child-friendly explanation of the part of history which that icon was selected to represent. These descriptions not only help the readers to better understand part of Church history: but they also tie the icon back to the present, so that the reader can better understand what the icon depicts and how it applies to his/her life.

The book is geared towards children of many ages. It can be perused by very young children, who will love the beautiful icons on its pages. Slightly older children will enjoy seeking  the specific items that the “notice this” note points out in every spread. Older children will enjoy reading the descriptions for themselves and learning about icons throughout history. The whole family would benefit from reading these descriptions together and discussing them. (If used in this way, a family could enjoy at least 12 devotional times based on the spreads in the book!) Grownups and children alike will enjoy reading this book and growing together in their faith through having read it.

“…Burned, smashed, and buried, icons have endured a great deal as they’ve made their way from God to you. They’ve reached you because He wants them in your church, in your home, and in your hands. But most of all, God wants you to keep His image in your heart…” ~ Skinas, first page

John Skinas’ book, From God to You: The Icon’s Journey to Your Heart, is available from Ancient Faith Publishing at .