Monthly Archives: November 2014

This week’s note is an article written by Judy Pappoff, and was originally published in “Faith and Family,” Dec. 2001, p. 18. Its suggestions are still very current and applicable. May God help us to lead our children in godliness in all seasons, especially during the holidays!


What Does Your Family Call December 25th?

The day has been called: “Christmas,” “The Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” “The Day Santa Comes,” “Baby Jesus’ Birthday,” “The Day We Give/Get Presents.” As parents, we have the responsibility of “naming” the day for our families.  Orthodox Christians celebrate the nativity, or birth, of Jesus Christ.

Most of us also participate in traditions of our society: food, decorations, socializing, presents.  What understanding do we want our children to have?  Holiday or Holy Day?  How do we tame the monster of materialism so that our children focus on the spiritual truth of the feast?

First, let’s examine our purchasing practices.  If the family has a video game system that works, does it need to be replaced?  We must set the example, and explain our actions.  Children will not see what is wasteful unless we bring it to their attention.  Then challenge them with “How might the money be better spent?”

Second, keep the focus on giving.  Let’s look at why gifts are part of this holy day.  It is because God gave us His Son – the greatest gift of all.  Then teach your children how to give, and think outside the “box” – even the Grinch realized that Christmas doesn’t come in a box!  Spend time as a family, giving homemade gifts to one another, and gifts of love to those in need.  Lavishly praise your children for these valuable gifts they give you and others.

Finally, let’s make sure our children know how to receive, with the gift of God’s Son as our example.  We accept and are thankful for Jesus Christ.  When your children light a candle at the Nativity service, remind them to say “thank you” to God for His Son.  Thankfulness is the response to all gifts, large or small.  Seasonal movies such as “The Little Drummer Boy” teach this.  Know when these will be on.  Stop your busy-ness, watch these together, discuss what is good; and in that quiet moment, remember also to say “thank you” to God for the children He has placed in your care.

by Judy Pappoff,  Faith and Family (Dec 2001 pg 18), found online at

Here’s another article in the same vein:

Below are links to articles and ideas of ways to help our children combat materialism and consumerism during the holidays.


“Lavishing our children with gifts deprives them of something far more valuable: shared time and experiences. In our overscheduled lives, we are often too busy or tired to do a family art project, play a board game or bake cookies. I can’t remember ever roasting chestnuts on an open fire, but it’s always sounded like a lovely idea. Most families say that what they need more of is time – not stuff. And getting in and out of shopping centers steals your time.

Overabundance of holiday gifts offers a short-term payoff, but the long-term consequences are high. Mary Bellis Waller, author of “Crack-Affected Children,” likens materialism to cocaine addiction. Buying stuff stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain, which creates a temporary high, but ultimately leaves one unsatisfied. The bottom line is that substance abuse is substance abuse.

Not surprisingly kids who are overindulged materially tend to have the worst relationships with their parents. Money can’t buy love, but it sure seems to finance some serious familial discord.” ~ from


“The primary message of commercial culture is that the things we buy will make us happy. In fact, that’s not true. Research tells us that our sense of wellbeing depends on relationships, a sense of community, spiritual nourishment, and/or job satisfaction, not on acquiring “things.” Children who are more materialistic are less happy, more depressed, more anxious and have lower self-esteem.” Read about researchers’ findings here:


“‘The gimmes’ are all around us during the holiday season. It can be hard for kids — and parents — to look beyond all of the product-driven hoopla and remember what the holidays are really about.” So begins an article titled “Making the Holidays Less Materialistic for Kids”, found at


In the brief article “Minimalizing the Materialism of the Holidays,” found at, Dr. Deanna Conklin-Danao offers suggestions of how to scale back on giving our children stuff; including suggestions for different age levels, as well as a reminder that grandparents/relatives need to also be informed of a family’s decision to minimalize on material gifts.


Find 10 suggestions of ways to help your teen let go of holiday consumerism at


Find reader-suggested ideas for hands-on ways to help children combat materialism at the holidays at


“Very few childhood memories actually include the gifts I received. I distinctly remember the year that I got a blue dirt bike, the evening my brother and I received a Nintendo, and opening socks every year from my grandparents. But other than that, my gift-receiving memories are pretty sparse. Which got me thinking… what type of gifts can we give to our children that they will never forget? What gifts will truly impact their lives and change them forever?” Read more, including a list of 35 non-material gifts that your children will never forget, at


Incorporating “The Akathist of Thanksgiving” into a Thanksgiving Celebration

As we approach the end of November, Americans are preparing to celebrate “Thanksgiving,” a holiday in which we are encouraged to gather together with loved ones, enjoy food and time together, and be grateful for all that we have been given. Although Thanksgiving is a cultural (secular) holiday, it was begun with a holy intent: to thank God. It is an opportunity for us as Orthodox Christians to do what we should be doing daily, anyway: giving glory and thanks to God for His rich blessings on our lives!

The Akathist of Thanksgiving ( is a beautiful prayer, a delight to the soul, and a fitting beginning to praising God at any time of the year. It is especially appropriate to pray this akathist in this season of giving thanks. Readers unfamiliar with the Akathist of Thanksgiving may want to read this note about it:

How can we incorporate this akathist into our family’s celebration of Thanksgiving this year? Here are a few ideas:

  • At evening prayers, read the akathist together as a family. If you have young children, read only one or two stanzas each evening, until you’ve read the whole thing. After the reading, talk about what you have just read. How did you see God’s hand in the ways described, in this day? (ie: kontakion 2 says “…the golden rays of sun and the light clouds are reflected in the water…;” a family member may remind the rest, “Remember as we drove to school this morning, when the sun rays shone down through a cloud, and we saw it reflected in that puddle?!?”)
  • Play the akathist on your CD or mp3 player as you prepare for Thanksgiving Day; whether cooking (if dinner is at your house) or even just getting ready to go (if dinner’s at someone else’s house), this akathist can help your spirit be ready to be truly thankful.
  • On Thanksgiving Day itself, chant or read the akathist together as part of your thanksgiving celebration.

After having read/chanted/heard the akathist:

  • Select one stanza (or even just one kontakion or ikos) that seems particularly appropriate to your family this year. Print out the individual phrases, and work together to make an illustrated booklet. You can work together to draw the pictures; or make a collage of magazine pictures that illustrate the phrases; or even take photos to illustrate them. Illustrate a different stanza every year, and eventually you’ll have the whole akathist and can pray it directly from your own illustrated version; savoring the growth and memories collected while illustrating it!
  • Carefully write or print out beautifully-lettered bookmarks of kontakion 13 (for example: Use them as Thanksgiving place markers or host gifts, depending if you are hosting or being hosted. Print the kontakion and adhere it to colorful cardstock cut slightly larger than the paper on which the kontakion is printed. Together decorate the edges of each bookmark with crayon/marker, pressed leaves, or seasonally appropriate stamps. On the back of the bookmark, write the name of the person to whom you are giving the bookmark. Laminate the whole thing (contact paper makes a nice laminate), punch a hole in the top, and tie on a bit of ribbon or yarn for the bookmark topper.
  • Use a permanent marker (over scrap paper, in case the marker bleeds through) to write kontakion 13 on a length of wired ribbon. Gently curve and twist the ribbon, careful to keep the words showing, and spread it down the middle of your table or across a mantle as part of your Thanksgiving decor.
  • Select a phrase such as this one from kontakion 1: “I thank Thee for all Thy visible and secret goods, for earthly life and for the heavenly joy of Thy future Kingdom…” Print the phrase at the top of a large sheet of butcher paper. Attach the paper to a door or wall of your home, as a collaborative art piece where family members and guests can add words, cut pictures, or sketches of the “goods,” “earthly life,” or “heavenly joy of [the] future Kingdom” for which they specifically want to thank God.

However we implement this hymn into our Thanksgiving celebration, let us do so with thoughtful awareness of the words and the worshipful intent behind them. We have much for which to be thankful, not the least of which is our Faith. Hymns such as the Akathist of Thanksgiving allow us to join with the voices of saints from years gone by, in worshipping God.

Indeed, “Glory to God for all things!” ~ St. John Chrysostom



Here are additional ways to incorporate the Akathist of Thanksgiving into your celebration:

Kontakion 1 of the Akathist of Thanksgiving says, “I was born on earth as a feeble and helpless child, but Thy angel, spreading his shiny wings, has sheltered my cradle. From that moment Thy love shines in all my ways and miraculously guides me into the light of eternity.” Look together at each family member’s baby pictures, and talk about how God’s angels have protected each of you from when you were born until today.


Kontakion 2 of the Akathist of Thanksgiving says, “All nature mysteriously speaks about Thee, all is filled with Thy mercy and all carries the seal of Thy love.” Go for a hike in a natural space, with this phrase in mind, looking for (and pointing out to each other) the ways in which you see nature speaking about God and showing us His love.


Ikos 3 of the Akathist of Thanksgiving says, “Glory to Thee Who from the dark depths of the earth bringeth forth so many colors and scents.” Plant flower seeds, or amaryllis bulbs in some “deep dark” earth, and together watch God bring forth colors (and perhaps scents) from that earth, as they bloom!


Ikos 4 of the Akathist of Thanksgiving says, “When night falls upon the earth, the stillness of sleep reigns and sounds of the past day become silent; I see the splendor of Thy heavenly mansions. Flame and purple, gold and azure presag the indescribable beauty of Thy home…” Keep an eye on the sky at sunset during this season, and purpose to stop everything as a family each time there’s a beautiful sunset, so that you can take in the splendor and give glory to God who is creating that beauty right before your very eyes.


Kontakion 5 of the Akathist of Thanksgiving says, “The tempest of life does not frighten one in whose heart shines the light of Thy divine fire. Around me are whirling storms and roaring winds; terror and darkness surround me; but in my soul is peace and light.” Discuss what this means, to be at peace in the midst of the tempest of life; and why we don’t need to be afraid in terror or darkness. Make night lights for each child’s room featuring an image that reminds the child of God’s presence: perhaps their favorite icon, a beautiful scene, or even just a block of their favorite color. ( is one idea of a place to get a kit made specifically for this activity. Or, you can line a mason jar with the printed image, and add a strand of lights as illustrated here:

On Family Read-Alouds

*Note: these notes/blogs are usually written in third person. This one, however, is personal in nature and therefore is written as a conversation with you, the reader. May the book suggestions bring you and your family at least as much joy as they have brought to mine!


Welcome to my backyard. Have a seat on my bench, and let me read you a story… Oops, maybe I should clear it off first!?! It is covered in dear friends: favorite books that our family has read aloud and loved. Some of them we’ve read more than once. Most of them have been read (and re-read) by my kids after we read them aloud to the family. I’ll tell you what: let me introduce you to them as I move them!


First, I’d like you to meet some of our family’s favorite picture books. From before my children were born, and throughout their childhood, I have read to them with great frequency. Even though both of my kids are teens now, they still enjoy hearing a great story. Once in a while, we even *still* read picture books together. Here is a sampling of our favorites:


It is great fun to learn about other cultures through their stories. I am especially drawn to folktales from those other cultures, so my kids have heard hundreds of folktales. Here are just a few examples of ones we have enjoyed:


Our family loves to laugh. We like the clever use of words in silly poetry. Here are a few of the books we’ve giggled over again and again. Some of them we still quote on a regular basis!


We have always read stories from the scriptures with our children. Books like these have been helpful to bring the stories to the kids’ level, telling them in ways the children were able to understand. Now that the children are teens, we daily read the Epistle and the Gospel as well as a saint’s story from a spiral-bound calendar from Here are a sampling of Bible story books we read together when the children were younger:


We have read many Orthodox Christian books together along the way. Unfortunately for you, dear reader, we tend to lend these books out when we finish them… So, favored tomes such as “Facing East” and “The Scent of Holiness” are gracing other homes at the moment and could not be included in this photo. But we do currently have part of our great Orthodox read-aloud material still at home. Here are a few examples:


Probably the best loved of all the “friends” in that first picture are the chapter books. These have been read, re-read, and discussed from the time when our children were little through the present. These are stories, yes, but they also become springboards to discussion. Chapter books provide opportunities to delve into the lives of others and point out what they’ve done right and wrong, without judging another person. They offer the chance to strengthen our children’s faith as together we read about, discuss, and thereby learn from the characters and what happens to them in these books. (And apparently we are not alone! Listen to this podcast about how quality literature led an atheist into the Faith:!) Many of the friends pictured here are just one part of a series, all of which we have inhaled and lingered over. Have we loved them? Look at their book covers and decide for yourself:


Aaah! Now we can see the bench!  Have a seat (pardon the sap drops from our pine tree)! I’d like to read you a story.


Which one should we read first?

Below are recommendations of individual books in each category. Which ones have you not yet read? Maybe you can get further ideas here:


Picture books are fun to read aloud, regardless of age. Adults enjoy them as much as kids do. Picture books are short and sweet, but they touch on themes from cause and effect to being yourself to “let’s just do something fun!” Pink and Say is a tender story of how true friends treat each other, regardless of their cultural background. Tacky the Penguin, Chrysanthemum, and A Porcupine Named Fluffy are examples of picture books about being the best you that you can be; even if your very NAME is different from others. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day allows the reader to see how to (or not to?) handle what you do when things go wrong. Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? reassures children of their parents’ love and protection. Guess How Much I Love You? gives parents and children the opportunity to try to outlove each other. The myriad of “just for fun” books simply provide an opportunity for parents and kids to be together and laugh. Reading picture books aloud strengthens vocabulary and allows children to hear language; but best of all, it provides time for family bonding.


Folktales have been used by people of all cultures from the earliest times to explain things, teach history, and/or teach lessons. Folktales provide families with a delightful way to learn via story. For example, The Mitten is based on a Ukrainian folktale with the lesson that there’s always room for one more… maybe. Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock is one of a myriad of African/Caribbean stories about Anansi the spider-man and how he always tries to trick people (but does he succeed?!?). A great folk tale will teach the reader about the culture from which the tale comes while also entertaining the reader. Best of all, though, is the fact that folktales always teach a lesson of some sort!


Children’s poetry gives kids the opportunity to listen to and play with language. It also offers fun ways to learn things that kids need to learn. For example: Chicken Soup With Rice offers silly verses for each month of the year. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom includes the letters of the alphabet playing themselves, as main characters in the poem. Where the Sidewalk Ends is a goofy gathering of poetry that is so typical of Shel Silverstein; poems that border on ridiculous, full of clever wording and unsuspected endings. As a whole, cleverly written children’s poetry will expand the listeners’ vocabulary, help them to use their minds to anticipate forthcoming rhymes, and it will often make both the reader and the listeners laugh!


There are many Bible story books available to read aloud. For example, The Little Girls Bible Storybook for Mothers & Daughters (or the one for fathers & daughters; or the little boys’ Bible storybooks for each parent to share with their son) are a sweet way for individual parents to read and discuss Bible stories with their children. Find many other Bible story books at You could also read some Bible stories together online at Or let me read a Bible story to you: listen to this week’s Gospel re-telling or reading, voiced by the author of this week’s note/blog, at


The list of wonderful Orthodox Christian children’s books available to be read aloud keeps growing. Chief among them are stories about the saints. For example, Sweet Song, the Story of St. Romanos the Melodist is a beautiful picture book about the saint whose sweet voice was a gift from God one Christmas Eve. Many beautifully illustrated books about more recent saints such as St. Nectarios, St. John Maximovitch, Elder Paisios, and St. Seraphim of Sarov can be found at Other wonderful Orthodox read-alouds include the brand new From God To You: the Icon’s Journey to Your Heart, a wonderful read-aloud that helps Orthodox Christians of many different ages to learn about icons. Chapter books that make great Faith-enhancing read-alouds for Orthodox families include Basil’s Search for Miracles, the story of a middle school boy who finds his way to the Church through a series of articles he writes about miracles, for his parochial school’s newspaper. There are many wonderful Orthodox Christian books that families can read aloud together, and the list keeps growing, as Orthodox authors share their talents for God’s glory!


Great chapter books to read aloud as a family include The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; The Hobbit; and The Book of Three. Each of these books is but the first in a series, features characters on journeys, and has deep spiritual parallels. (Interestingly enough, the authors: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Lloyd Alexander were all friends!) Another chapter book to read aloud is Many Waters, a story in which modern-day twin boys are sent back through time to Noah’s family. Chapter books that exhibit great love among family members include The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, The Boxcar Children, and Sarah Plain and Tall, to name a few. There are far too many great read-aloud chapter books to list here: these are only a suggested starting place for the family who has not yet read them aloud yet!


As the Nativity season approaches, Orthodox families may want to consider reading aloud books that will help them to prepare for the Nativity. Here are a few Advent/Nativity books that can be helpful to that end:


Happy reading, everyone!

On “Saving” Time

It is that time of year when many countries in the world enter “Daylight Savings Time” and collectively shift their schedules accordingly. Interestingly enough, this schedule shift occurs near the onset of the “holiday season” in North America. The implication of saving time, combined with the culturally-imposed busyness of the forthcoming season creates an interesting juxtaposition in thought. Pondering this clash of ideologies brings an important question to mind: How can we as Orthodox Christians truly “save” our time; even during the “holiday season?”

An important measure that we can take to that end is to go through our schedules now and prepare them before they are overtaken with other plans. There are a number of things that we should schedule into our “holiday season” immediately, so that we are certain that there is time for them. Here are a number of priorities which we should schedule in order to truly “save” (redeem) our time:

  1. “Save” time by prioritizing Church. What better way to redeem our time than to pray, worship, and be in the presence of God? Find out from your parish calendar (or priest) what additional services will celebrated during November and December. Put them into your family calendar, so that you remember them and can attend as many as possible. Challenge your family to attend more services together than you did last year.
  2. “Save” time by prioritizing fasting. The Nativity fast is an excellent way to prepare for Christ’s birth. Remember that fasting is not just about food; but also about refraining from excess/ judgement/unnecessary entertainment/etc. Fasting is also about giving to those in need. “The holiday season” is a perfect time to work at all of these. Brainstorm ways to work at them together as a family. Block out needed time in your family’s schedule for the fasting methods that require time (for example, helping in a soup kitchen or volunteering somewhere to help needy people). Scheduling family time to work at the different ways to fast will help you to do them better!
  3. “Save” time by prioritizing family devotional time. As families, we should regularly be saying prayers and reading/discussing the scriptures, as well as other books that strengthen us in our faith. If we have not developed a habit of this for our family yet, what better time to begin than in a season when we are preparing to celebrate Christ’s coming? (Read-aloud book suggestions for different age levels will be a topic for a future week. Stay tuned!)
  4. “Save” time by prioritizing down time. Yes, down time. During “the holidays.” One of the greatest challenges of today’s society is the constant requirement for noise, for entertainment, for socialization, etc. Each of these is escalated during “the holiday season,” and it is easy for us as Christians to get sucked into it “because, after all, it’s all about celebrating Christ’s birth!” However, the onslaught of stuff, noise, and busyness flies in the face of the still, quiet preparation that our hearts need in order to be truly prepared to celebrate Christ’s nativity. It is not wrong to say no to the busyness or to choose to miss out on some of the parties or other activities. It is different than the actions/expectations of the rest of the culture, but then again, so is our Orthodox faith! But how can we shape our schedules in a way that allows down time, especially during “the holiday season?” One family suggests sitting down now with your calendar, and blocking out days from now through the end of the year by writing something on the calendar. This family writes the word “something” on many of the evenings and weekends not already filled with church. If someone invites them to an event, they simply say, “Thank you very much for the invitation! I am sorry, but we already have something on the calendar for that day,” and it is the truth. (Note: the parents of the aforementioned family reserve the right to add something to the calendar when it already has “something;” but they take up to 24 hours to discuss it amongst themselves before getting back to the invitation giver, in attempt to maintain down time in the family. They do make exceptions to the 24 hour wait time occasionally.) Of course each family can institute their own version of this suggestion. The main idea is to block in down time, to deliberately NOT do every activity option that comes your way (which, in itself, can also be a form of fasting, too!). Note: if you do this but add things to your schedule instead of the “something” on your calendar, just be careful that you do not always ignore that “something” on the calendar. It is there to remind you to be still!

As we approach “the holidays,” let us be careful to focus on the real reason for our celebrations: the birth of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Let us not be swept into the unnecessary cultural busyness that can distract us from being still and preparing for His coming. Let us do what we can to open our schedules to the things that turn our hearts and the hearts of our children towards Christ and His great love for us.

What ideas do you have to share? Please post them below!


Following are a related quotes and/or extensions of the above suggestions:


“Unfortunately, many of us see church attendance as an obligation and a troublesome duty, rather than as a gift. We need to be mindful of the fact that living in a society of many temptations and countless mixed messages, we badly need the encouragement of one another to help us become and remain strong Christians. It is only by supporting one another that we are able to avoid distraction, remain focused, and order our priorities rightly. That is why St. Paul writes ‘Let us not give up the habit of meeting together . . . but let us encourage one another all the more.’ (Heb. 10:25).” ~ Rev Andew J Demotses, from


“ Do you fast? Then feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick, do not forget the imprisoned, have pity on the tortured, comfort those who grieve and who weep, be merciful, humble, kind, calm, patient, sympathetic, forgiving, reverent, truthful and pious, so that God might accept your fasting and might plentifully grant you the fruits of repentance.

Fasting of the body is food for the soul.” ~ St. Basil the Great, from


Venerable Ephraim the Syrian had this to say about fasting:

“Let thy mind fast from vain thoughts; let thy memory fast from remembering evil; let thy will fast from evil desire; let thine eyes fast from bad sights: turn away thine eyes that thou mayest not see vanity; let thine ears fast from vile songs and slanderous whispers; let thy tongue fast from slander, condemnation, blasphemy, falsehood, deception, foul language and every idle and rotten word; let thy hands fast from killing and from stealing another’s goods; let thy legs fast from going to evil deeds: Turn away from evil, and do good.”


“Do you fast? Prove it by doing good works. If you see someone in need, take pity on them. If you see a friend being honored, don’t get jealous of him. For a true fast, you cannot fast only with your mouth. You must fast with your eye, your ear, your feet, your hands, and all parts of your body.” ~ St. John Chrysostom


“A monk complained to St. Arsenius that while reading Holy Scripture he does not feel, neither the power of the words read nor gentleness in his heart.

To that the great saint will reply to him: ‘My child, just read! I heard that the sorcerers of serpents, when they cast a spell upon the serpents, the sorcerers are uttering the words, which they themselves do not understand, but the serpents hearing the spoken words sense their power and become tamed.

An so, with us, when we continually hold in our mouths the words of Holy Scripture, but even though we do not feel the power of the words, evil spirits tremble and flee for they are unable to endure the words of the Holy Spirit.’

My child, just read!

The Holy Spirit Who, through inspired men, wrote these divine words, will hear, will understand and will hasten to your assistance; and the demons will understand will sense and will flee from you.

That is: He Whom you invoke for assistance will understand, and those whom you wish to drive away from yourself will understand. And both goals will be achieved.” ~ St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue of Ochrid (May 8)

Reading together as a family during the Nativity Fast is a good way to get into the habit of reading/praying together. And even if you don’t “feel” anything, “my child, just READ!”


Even “secular” sources suggest having quiet/still time during the holidays.

“Always plan for quiet time. It reduces exposure to holiday marketing, creates opportunities for family bonding and fosters independent children. Golin observes, ‘We can all be better about trusting our kids to entertain themselves. When reducing screen time, we don’t necessarily need to suggest activities to kids. Give them the space to be bored for a minute and be amazed at what they come up with on their own.’” (from