Monthly Archives: September 2014

Learning About The Saints: Saint Thekla (commemorated Sept. 24)

On September 24, the Orthodox Church commemorates St. Thekla. Our children will benefit from hearing about her, because we can learn many things from her life. Here is her story, written in child-friendly language:

St. Thekla was born in Iconium, in AD 16, to parents who were pagans. When she was 18 (and betrothed to be married to Thamyris), Sts. Paul and Barnabas arrived in Iconium. Although Thekla’s mother Theokleia wouldn’t let her go to where the saints were preaching, Thekla discovered that she could still hear them preach if she sat right by her bedroom window. She especially liked St. Paul’s teaching about remaining pure for Christ. Theokleia and Thamyris didn’t like this at all, so they complained to the city governor about Paul. The governor put Paul in prison, saying that he was disturbing the public, and left him there, waiting for a trial.

When Thekla learned that Paul was arrested, she went to the prison secretly. She bribed the guard with her jewelry, so that he would let her into the prison. While she was in the prison, Thekla listened to St. Paul speak about Christ. She stayed there for a long time.

Meanwhile, Theokleia and Thamyris checked with Thekla’s servant to find out where she was. When they discovered that Thekla was visiting Paul in prison, they went back to the governor, asking that Paul be judged immediately. The governor scolded Paul for causing a disturbance, and then he had Paul stoned and expelled from Iconium. Then the governor advised Thekla to stop being foolish, and to go home. Thekla announced that she wanted to remain a virgin, staying pure for Christ’s sake. Theokleia was furious and asked the governor to threaten Thekla, so he did: he said she would be burned at the stake if she did not stop following Christ.

Thekla did not change her mind, so she was taken to the arena. A vision of Jesus Christ gave her strength while she was being tied to the stake and then as she faced the flames. The authorities lit the fire, and it began to burn. As the flames came closer to Thekla, however, a thunderstorm came up, and the heavy rain and hail put the flames out. The governor was embarrassed and angry, so he released Thekla and ordered her to leave Iconium immediately.

Thekla found St. Paul outside the city, told him what had just happened, and asked to be baptized. St. Paul would not baptize her, saying that her baptism would happen in God’s timing and God’s way. They then left Iconium, and traveled together to Antioch.

When they arrived in Antioch, a nobleman named Alexander saw Thekla. She was so beautiful that he rushed up to her and tried to convince her to be his girlfriend. She embarrassed him by refusing him, in front of all of his friends. Alexander was so upset that he went to the governor of Antioch and complained that this girl had come into town and disgraced him in public even though he was a nobleman. He told the governor that Thekla should be killed as her punishment. The governor agreed and said that Thekla would be put into the arena with wild beasts.

On the day that Thekla was taken into the arena, a lioness was also released into the arena, to attack Thekla. Instead of attacking Thekla, the lioness walked up to her and lay down at her feet. Next, a bear was released. The lioness defended Thekla, killing the bear. Next, a large lion was released into the arena. The lioness again defended Thekla, and died while killing the lion. Finally, all the other cages were opened so that more wild animals could enter the arena. Thekla crossed herself and prayed that God would make her brave. She noticed a large tank of water nearby, also containing dangerous animals. She climbed into the water, asking Christ Himself to baptize her as she did so. The dangerous water animals did not hurt her.

When they saw that none of the wild animals would harm Thekla, the authorities gave up and released her. After her time in the arena, she spent 8 days in the home of a wealthy lady named Tryphaena, telling her and her household about Jesus, and converting all of them to Christianity. When Thekla left Antioch, Tryphaena gave her gold and jewels as a gift.

Thekla gave these gifts to St. Paul (so that he could give them to the poor) when she found him in Myra, after leaving Antioch. She told Paul all that had happened, and asked that he bless her to spend the rest of her life as an ascetic. St. Paul blessed her to do so, and so she left for the mountains in Syria.

For years, Thekla lived alone, praying, in those mountains. One day, a young man found her alone in the mountains and wanted to hurt her. He blocked the only way she could escape! Thekla prayed and asked Jesus Christ to protect her. A miracle happened: the canyon wall split at that very moment, and she could escape through a crack in the rock.

Thekla lived the rest of her life as an ascetic. She fell asleep in the Lord when she was 90 years old. Soon after she passed away, a group of young ladies went to live in her cell in the mountains. They built a small chapel to house her body. This was the beginning of the Convent of St. Thekla near Ma’loula, Syria.

Thekla suffered very much for her faith. Because of this, the Church calls her a “Protomartyr.” She brought so many people with her into the Christian faith, so she is also called “Equal-to-the-Apostles.” (abridged from http://www.antiochian.org/life_of_thekla)

Troparion – Tone 4
You were enlightened by the words of Paul, O Bride of God, Thekla, and your faith was confirmed by Peter, O Chosen One of God. You became the first sufferer and martyr among women, by entering into the flames as into a place of gladness. For when you accepted the Cross of Christ, the demonic powers were frightened away. O all-praised One, intercede before Christ God that our souls may be saved.

 

Read more about St. Thekla’s life here: http://oca.org/saints/lives/2014/09/24/102715-protomartyr-and-equal-of-the-apostles-thekla

Here is a version of St. Thekla’s life story that includes icons as well as pictures of the recent monastery that was built at the site of her ascetic labors: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/09/st-thekla-protomartyr-and-equal-to.html

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On Supporting Our Children’s Teachers

It is the beginning of a new school year in the Northern Hemisphere. This is a good time to set goals and also begin good habits for the year. As our children participate in school, homeschool groups, library or park classes, clubs, Sunday Church School, and other such groups, let us as parents be mindful of those who are leading and teaching the children in these groups. This school year, let us set a goal to do a better job of supporting these teachers, and let us also begin the habits that will help us to meet that goal.

Here are a few ways that we can support our children’s teachers:

  1. Prayer. First and foremost, let us pray for them. They have a very important job, and will need all of the support that they can get! We can pray for them before we even meet them; and even more so as the year goes on and we learn what challenges they are experiencing with our children and/or their classmates.
  2. Empathy. Let us remember that these teachers are also people, and that they, too, have been made in God’s image. Let us keep this truth foremost in our minds every time we interact with them. They have feelings, they have struggles, they have needs; but they are working past all of those things to do their best in helping our children learn and grow. Having a mindset of empathy will affect every interaction with our children’s teachers, allowing us to interact with kindness and respect, and leading to mutual respect and compassion.
  3. Communication. It is imperative that we communicate with our children’s teachers. Now is the time to reach out to the teachers with our contact information and offer them different ways to contact us with any comments, questions, or concerns they may have regarding our child(ren). Since communication is a two-way street, now is also the time for us to initiate communication with the teachers with comments and any questions we may have. Let us get the year off to a positive start by sending supportive feedback to the teachers on what our student is learning, how the teacher has set up a learning-friendly environment, or how much we appreciate their communication with parents, etc.
  4. Gratitude. A simple “thank you” goes a long, long way. Let us look for things that our children’s teachers are doing and be sure to thank them for those things. Whether the teacher is a classroom teacher, a club leader, or a Sunday Church School teacher, the job that they have is a big one and often does not pay well financially. Most teachers take the job anyway because of their love for children and their desire to help our children grow. Since we share that common goal, and they are helping our children to reach it, the least we can do is thank them. Let us thank our children’s teachers regularly; perhaps even with a plate of cookies or a bundle of new pencils to accompany those thanks.
  5. Help. Let us find out ways in which we can assist our children’s teachers accomplish our common goal of helping children to learn. We may be able to work right in the class; or maybe we can create a display or game that can be used by the class/assemble classroom sets of items needed for learning/bake something for the class; etc. Even if we are not available to help during class time, there is always much work to do, and many teachers will be able to find something that we can do from home/as it suits our schedule that will be helpful to them. Ultimately, our goal is to allow the teachers to be able to focus more on our children and less on the logistics of making the lessons happen. (Note: even if our child’s teacher can’t think of any way in which we can help, just knowing that we are willing to help them will certainly offer them support.)

This is only a beginning of a list of what we can do to help our children’s teachers. May we be mindful of what they need, and determined to find ways to help to meet those needs. The more we work together with the teachers in our children’s lives, the smoother the year will go, and the more our children will learn. That learning is, after all, everyone’s ultimate goal for this year. Let’s do what we can to help make it happen!

One place to begin would be to think from a teacher’s perspective. Here is a list of the top 10 things teachers wish parents would do. Read it and see which of these you’re doing well, and which you may need to work on improving: http://school.familyeducation.com/parents-and-teacher/38781.html

 

Gleanings from a Book: “The Ascetic Lives of Mothers: a Prayer Book for Orthodox Moms” by Annalisa Boyd

“I heard it said once that motherhood is a type of asceticism. Like the ascetics, mothers find themselves in a situation that requires their utter devotion, self-denial, daily emotional exercises, facing extreme challenges, and much prayer.” (p.17-18)

Those of us who are mothers know this to be true. There are many moments in each day when we give up our own desires to meet the needs of those around us; especially those of our children. How, then, do we have time to “pray without ceasing” while meeting those needs? Annalisa Boyd meets that question head-on in the introduction to her uplifting and helpful book, The Ascetic Lives of Mothers: a Prayer Book for Orthodox Moms.

This book is a must-have for any Orthodox mom who wants to prayerfully raise her children in the Faith. The heartening chapters at the beginning of the book set the reader’s mind at ease that she is not the only mother going through tough circumstances or wondering how on earth to live her Faith in the midst of the mundane tasks of motherhood. The bulk of the book is the myriad of prayers for various situations, which have been carefully gathered and organized by topic, and can therefore be easily found. The book includes basic daily prayers, prayers for times of trouble, prayers for the sick, preparation for confession, prayers of blessing and thankfulness, prayers through the stages of motherhood, prayers for godchildren and other “bonus” children, prayers for the future, and more.

A highlight of the book (and the largest chapter of all), titled “Tea Time at the Abyss”, references this quote:

“Stand at the brink of the abyss of despair, and when you see that you cannot bear it anymore, draw back a little and have a cup of tea.” ~ Elder Sophrony of Essex

In this chapter’s introduction, Boyd reassures the reader, “Let us step back and take tea together as mothers. Of course we may not be able to sit at each other’s tables and sip a perfectly steeped pot together, but we can pray for one another and be an encouragement. We can make a pot of gratitude for all the Lord has blessed us with and sip it throughout the day through prayer and the reading of His word. We can choose to face the difficulties, in the strength of Christ our Lord and lay down the idea that we must somehow bear it all. How freeing is that thought alone? May we take hold of even the smallest moments each day to enter into prayer, allowing us to step back and drink in Christ, for He promises to quench our thirst and give us His peace. Thank God!” (p. 38-39) The rest of the chapter lists topics from “Addiction” to “Special Needs,” which include quotes from scriptures and saints, as well as prayers related to each topic. (Note: some of the prayers in this book are prayers prescribed by the Church. Others are “simply prayers from the heart of one mama to another… (to) be used for encouragement and to promote your own personal prayer time with Our Lord.” ~ pp. 11-12)

This book is a wonderful aid to mothers at any stage in life. While it is aimed primarily at mothers, many of the quotes and prayers will be just as uplifting and useful for fathers, as well. It will be a much-used companion to any parent who adds it to their library and then faithfully uses it to help them to “pray without ceasing.”

“It is of great significance if there is a person who truly prays in a family. Prayer attracts God’s Grace and all the members of the family feel it, even those whose hearts have grown cold. Pray always.” ~ Elder Thaddeus

The Ascetic Lives of Mothers: a Prayer Book for Orthodox Moms by Annalisa Boyd is available for purchase here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/the-ascetic-lives-of-mothers/

Follow the author’s blog, “The Ascetic Lives of Mothers,” here:http://theasceticlivesofmothers.blogspot.com/

The Feast of the Elevation of the Cross (September 14)

Before Thy Cross, we bow down in worship, Sovereign Lord, and Thy Holy Resurrection we glorify!

The Elevation of the Cross commemorates both St. Helen’s discovery of Christ’s Cross in the fourth century, and its recovery from the Persians by Emperor Heraclius in the seventh century (at which time it was “elevated” in the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem).

From this victory celebration on, the “universal elevation” of the Cross was celebrated annually in all of the Churches of the Christian Empire. The day of the feast became the national holiday of the Eastern Christian Empire, and on that day it was “elevated” by the priests and bishops. The Cross served as the official emblem of the Empire, and was displayed on all building and uniforms.

The Troparion of the feast was sung on all public occasions, as a “national anthem” of sorts, and originally petitioned God to save the people, grant victory in war, and preserve the Empire “by virtue of the Cross”. Today that Troparion, and all the hymns of the feast, are spiritualized: the adversaries are the spiritually wicked and sinful, including Satan and his armies, and the “Orthodox Christians” replace the ruling officials of the Empire.

This holy day, although is obviously has a political origin, remains with us as a day of prayer and fasting: the Cross is held up as the only symbol worthy of our total allegiance.

Adapted from The Orthodox Faith, Vol. II, by Fr. Thomas Hopko.

(used by permission, from http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/feasts/09-14.htm)

Here’s another resource for the Elevation of the Cross:http://myocn.net/…/uploads/2014/09/Childrens-Word-83.pdf

This week’s daily Facebook posts will offer ways for you and your family to learn about and celebrate the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross.