Monthly Archives: February 2015

On Beginning Great Lent

This week, we are offering many suggestions of things to do as you prepare to, then lead, your family through Great Lent. We will begin with part of a helpful article by Ann Marie Gidus-Mercera, called “ Ways to Share Great Lent and Pascha with Your Child,” from Orthodox Family Life, printed in 1997. Used by permission.
Take your child to Church!

Whenever a service is scheduled, plan to attend. Services like The Canon of St. Andrew of Crete may be physically tiring with the many prostrations, but don’t think your child can’t be a part of them. In my own parish, which is filled with pre-schoolers, the children do a great job of making prostrations right along with the adults. Many of the children will join in as “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me” is sung. This experience is good for our children! If they see their parents attending services, they get the message that attending Church is important. If we bring our children to Church with us (both young and old), they get the message that their presence in Church is important. The Canon of St. Andrew of Crete is especially good for teaching our children that we worship with our entire bodies.

Explain the service that your family will be attending.

Notice that the word “family” is used in the first sentence. Now is a good time to stress that the entire family should be attending services. My husband can’t make it home from work in time for all of us to get to services together, but he always meets us at Church. This tells our children that Church is important enough for Daddy to meet us there. As children get older, homework and after-school activities may tempt them (and us!) to skip Church services. Don’t let it! First of all, if we give in, then what we’re really telling them is that worldly affairs are more important than spiritual affairs. By allowing our children to miss Church, we make it extremely easy for them to fall away as teenagers or young adults.

Last of all, if we allow our older children to miss Church, we are telling our younger children that Church is not important when they get to be big sister or big brother’s age. Enforcing Church attendance by the entire family is no easy task. In fact, enforcing it may be one of the hardest jobs you encounter. Sticking to your rule will be even tougher. It’s a choice we must make as Orthodox parents. Maybe, it makes our task easier if we ask ourselves, “What would God want us to do?” The answer is obvious.

Prepare your child for Lent.

The weeks prior to Lent help us take on the right frame of mind for entering Lent. Let them do the same for your child. Read the stories and let your child color [or draw] the pictures prior to attending the Sunday services. You may want to read the story again on Saturday evening, or let your child take the color sheet to Church. A simple reminder Sunday morning concerning what the service and gospel reading will contain can be enough. Pre-schoolers have the ability to remember even the briefest of comments (even when it’s something we DON’T want them to remember!) Keep your explanation simple and BRIEF in order to hold his/her attention. Don’t try to go into a long and draw-out explanation or s/he will lose interest. If s/he has questions or comments, answer them briefly.

Don’t feel mountains have to be moved the day Lent begins, or even during Lent.

It might be a quiet, even uneventful day. That’s okay! Nothing magical needs to happen. We must only be ready to give our hearts to Christ, and we should gladly hand them over in an effort to be a good example to our children. This is our greatest task as Orthodox Christian parents.

You may find it helpful to have a daily calendar for the Lenten Fast. Here is a printable Lenten family calendar, highlighting important days during Great Lent, that features daily suggestions of activities that families can do together during the fast.

The goal of the calendar is to offer ideas that can help you live a more Christ-centered life during the Lenten fast.

Here are additional suggestions for preparing for Great Lent with your children:


Create a “Lenten Treasure Chest” for each child to fill with “coins” of REAL value, as shown in this free printable page:


Find an awesome blog on starting a Lenten fast with kids here: Also, here is a great variety of packed fasting meal ideas:


Here is a creative way for a family to experience Lent (including fasting, attending services, and giving to those in need) easily explained and tracked on the fridge:


Here is a printable coloring/activity book for the Sundays of Lent and Holy Week:


Here’s an overview of each Sunday of Lent, complete with the message of the week and suggested activities, here:

Overview of Lenten Sundays and Holy Week, with suggested steps of action for teens:


Begin to prepare learning boxes for your children to explore during Holy Week:

Gleanings from a Book: Help! I’m Bored in Church by Fr. David Smith

A note from the blogger: During the time that I was preparing the recent series of blogs on the Divine Liturgy, I was also reading the book Help! I’m Bored in Church, by Fr. David Smith. It was timely to be reading it while I researched and wrote those blogs. I found it so helpful that I decided to share a few of my gleanings from the book with you. So here is a “bonus” blog on the Divine Liturgy, in case you ever feel bored in church.


The title of Fr. David Smith’s book Help! I’m Bored in Church caught my attention from the moment I saw it. I mean, who HASN’T felt bored in church? Maybe a few people haven’t, but in this entertainment-overload society, I for one have “felt” (or, perhaps, “chosen to feel”) bored in church, and I am certain that I am not alone. The title caught me, and the tagline Entering Fully into Worship in the Divine Liturgy only enhanced my desire to read this book. So I began, and here is what I found: honesty, truth, and logical steps towards being more involved in the Divine Liturgy, served up with a delightful touch of humor. (And Fr. David says things so well that I will use many of his quotes, straight up: rewording would be inadequate.)

“My original title for this book was Church is Boring. You might react to that title by saying, ‘Of course it’s boring. Finally you’re admitting it.’ If even priests admit that church is boring, then that settles it. We can all stay home and sleep in on Sundays.

“Or perhaps you think it’s irreverent to say, ‘Church is boring.’ You’re thinking, ‘It’s not right for you to speak about the Divine Liturgy like that. If the priest says church is boring, he shouldn’t be a priest.’ You don’t find church boring, and your only complaint is that it’s not longer.

“Or it’s more likely that you’re in the middle. Church seems boring at times, yes. But there’s something good about church as well, and so saying ‘church is boring’ makes you a little uncomfortable…” (p. 5)

Fr. David goes on to explain that the fact that we are sometimes bored in church actually says something about US, not about the Church. He encourages his readers to change. “You can’t make the Divine Liturgy any shorter, but you can accomplish something within yourself that makes the time you spend in the Liturgy an experience of spiritual delight. Useful. Necessary. Something you look forward to.” (p. 6)

“Look at it this way: If you feel cold, you put on a coat… What do you do if you feel bored? I’ll tell you, you need to do something. It’s a sad and pathetic person who is cold and says, ‘I’m cold but I don’t care enough about myself to put on a coat. I’ll just suffer and be unhappy.’ Would you do that? Certainly not! Well, don’t do it when you’re bored in church either. This is your challenge: Discover the coat you need to put on, and then—put it on! I’ll give you the answer which has worked for me: The coat consists of prayer and watchfulness…” (p. 9)

The book goes on to explore “six reasons people sometimes feel bored in church, five ways to think about your priest, four ways you can participate more fully in services, three kinds of waiting, two kinds of prayer, and the one thing truly needful in our relationship with God…” (from the back cover) Fr. David walks the reader through each part of the book quoting from scripture, the lives of the saints, and personal experience.

We have talked in recent blog posts about the Divine Liturgy being “the work of the people,” or “the offering of the people for the whole world.” Fr. David suggests that actually DOING that work or offering will keep us from experiencing boredom in church. Being fully present during the Divine Liturgy, adding our voices to the singing, praying for those we know (and those we don’t), etc., are all things we should be doing as our portion of that offering. And they will help us maintain control over our wandering, “I’m bored,” mindset. But what is the most important thing for us to do in the Divine Liturgy? “What is your work? If you’re standing in church during the Divine Liturgy, you really only have one task: to worship God. I find the words of our Lord to be very comforting because they’re so clear. But they also make me see that watchfulness… is not an option, it’s a necessity: ‘What I say to you I say to all: Watch!’” (pp. 107-108)

However, that one task of worshipping God fully is not necessarily an easy one. Fr. David asks, “Where is your mind when your body’s in church?” (p. 110) He goes on to explain that the one thing that we need most of all in our relationship with God, so that we can best worship Him, is silence. Our minds don’t like it, especially in this age of continuous information and entertainment, but we need it desperately. “Silence frees us from the weight of the world, but our minds like the weight of the world. Our minds get frightened and bored easily.

“The first time I put my dog in a car, when he was a puppy, he was so nervous he threw up. I told him we were in the car in order to go to the best dog-walking place in the entire universe, but he couldn’t hear me. He tried to keep his eyes away from the windows so he would not see the world flying by faster than he could imagine. He was shivering all over as if he were freezing, even though it was a hot day.

“Today, he launches into a frenzy of barking and spinning in little circles when he hears the word car. He loves the car. It takes him places he wants to go (usually). So it is with silence. When you first try it, your mind starts pacing like a coke addict on his first day in rehab. It yells, I don’t like this! a hundred times. It rapidly starts suggesting other things you could be doing. But when you embrace silence and learn to use it as a tool that (spiritually) takes you places you want to go, you start looking forward to it and long for it when you’re not getting enough.” (pp. 120-121)

Fr. David finishes with, “Is church sometimes boring? And could it be that I’m actually offering silence as a solution? Yes to both. You and I are both citizens in a world that is under the control of the enemy. He knows your weakest point is your mind, and he will do whatever he can to win you to his side. His only weapon, since our Lord took suffering and death away from him, is distraction. Noise and toys. Can he really swing something shiny in front of your face and get you to forget the love and mercy of God? I don’t know about you, but I’ll admit that, yes, it works on me more often than I would like to admit.
“What we’ve done here is to try to stop this from happening. This effort is the very foundation of the Christian life. But listen. We cannot live in the foundation of a house; we have to build on that foundation. Keep growing, keep moving upward…” (p. 130)

One way to begin is to read (and occasionally re-read) this book.


About the book: Help! I’m Bored in Church by Fr. David Smith can be found here:

About the author: Fr. David Smith is the priest at St. Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Church in Syracuse, NY. He is married to Presbytera Donna, and they have four children. He has also written “Mary, Worthy of all Praise” (Conciliar Press; 2003), and “Christianity and Pleasure” (Regina Orthodox Press; 2008). For additional spiritual challenge and input, you can listen to Fr. David Smith’s sermons online at, or watch/listen to others on his YouTube channel at

One of his YouTube videos is about this book! See it here:

A related note: Although this is geared to teens/young adults and is not by Fr. David, family members of all ages can benefit from watching this Be the Bee vlog about church being “boring.” (Perhaps it can be a discussion starter to share what you’re learning with your kids as you read this book?)


Here are additional quotes from the book:


“This is how I want you to think about your relationship to God—like a marriage. A perfect marriage—except that you commit adultery nearly every day. But here’s the good news: God will always welcome you back. He will always run out to the car to hug you and walk with you back into your home. But you have to go home… Picture [the front door of your church] in your mind. I never want you to walk through that door again without saying something to God about how you have cheated on Him since last time you were there. The door of your church, from now on, is the gateway of repentance for you. Only in this way will you understand why you’re there in that building.” (pp. 24-25)


“When your time in church is spent in repentance and communion with God, your heart will be overflowing with joy when you walk out.” (p. 47)


“Here’s why you should go to church: because you get way more than you bargained for. The Church is the point in the universe where God is most present, and let me give you this advice: I think you’d be the most happy you’ll ever be when  you’re consistently in that place. What you see is not what you get—you get way more than you can see. Look around at the icons, and embrace that hope that tells you those saints are with you right at that moment, and praying for you.” (p. 51)


“Look around you while you’re in church, not to judge those who are also there, but to help your mind understand that the church is a holy pace. Your mind might occasionally whine like an annoying child that it wants to go to a different party. Tell it to be quiet. Look around you. You are exactly where you are supposed to be.” (p. 53)


“The most spectacular miracle in human history takes place every Sunday in your church—the miracle of the bread becoming the Body and the wine becoming the Blood of God. Every word of the Divine Liturgy prepares for that miracle, celebrates it, points to it, makes it possible, and describes it. It’s a beautiful and awesome thing. If you don’t know what’s going on, you’re missing something you definitely shouldn’t be missing.

“Find a liturgy book and follow along. Get to know the parts of the Divine Liturgy, what each means and how each part contributes to the whole…” (p. 70)


“The fact is that distracting yourself so you don’t get  bored will never provide a long-term substitute for the genuine, heartfelt, all-consuming worship of God. To achieve this, you need to bring your mind under control. Or, at least, more under control. Think of it as a continuum: on one end you have twenty thoughts galloping around your head like a herd of puppies, and on the other end you have a mind as focused and attentive as an experienced seeing-eye dog. Try to move yourself a little more toward having some control over your thoughts. Perhaps you’re not going to achieve guide-dog concentration at first, but you might be able to teach a puppy or two to stop pooping in the house.” (pp. 95-96)


“When someone says, ‘Church is boring,’ he’s really saying, ‘When I come to church, I drag my problems along with me, like a dog trying to drag a dead deer around the yard.’ Why do that? Why not drop the problems off at the door and spend a few minutes each week living free of their weight?

“Of course, most of us keep (mentally) going back outside during the Divine Liturgy to rearrange, or reconsider, or just stare at our problems. But remember St. Seraphim’s advice: When your mind wanders, you should humble yourself and call out to God, ‘I have sinned, O Lord, in word, deed, thought and with all my senses.’ Repent that you allowed your mind to wander, and bring it back into the church.” (pp. 110-111)


(When praying the Anaphora Prayers:) “But listen. Does God need to be reminded that He is inexpressible? Or eternally the same? Obviously not. God does not need to be reminded of anything—we do! While you are praying any of the words of the Liturgy—and always remember, the words of the Liturgy are indeed prayers— allow them to teach you about the faith. Allow them to fill you with the One we pray to and teach you why we pray. Allow them to teach you what we believe.” (p. 116)


On the Divine Liturgy: After Communion, the Dismissal

This is the eighth in a series of blogs on the Divine Liturgy. The intent of the series is to remind us of what our children are learning about the service. That way we as a family can better understand what is happening around us during the Liturgy, and together we can more fully enter into “the offering of the people for the whole world!” (Photos courtesy of Teaching Pics: and Kristina Wenger.)

We have learned so much about the Divine Liturgy as a whole throughout this series. I hope that taking a look at the things that our children are learning about the Liturgy has been helpful to you and your family. In this eighth and final blog, we will finish our look at the Liturgy of the Faithful by looking at what happens at the end of the Liturgy, after we partake of communion.

Our children are learning to thank God after receiving Holy Communion. There are many prayers of thanksgiving that can be prayed after communion. Someone in our parish always reads one aloud, but there are many more in the service books, so some parishioners pray all of them. This particular “Prayer of Thanksgiving After Communion” would be a good one to learn together as a family, if you haven’t already committed one to memory: “O Lord Jesus Christ, my God, let Your holy body be my eternal life and Your precious blood, the remission of my sins. May this Eucharist be my joy, my health, and my gladness. Make me, a sinner, worthy to stand at the right hand of Your glory at Your Second Coming, through the prayers of Your Most Pure Mother and of all the saints. Amen.” (1)

Our children are learning to continue to participate in the service even after communion is over. After communion, there are still litanies for us to focus on, during which we should respond. For example, “after the Prayers of Thanksgiving are completed, the priest directs the people to ‘depart in peace’ [and] the choir and people respond, ‘In the name of the Lord.’ (2)

I still remember, during our family’s first visit to an Orthodox Church, hearing the priest say, “Let us complete our prayer to the Lord!” and thinking, “Oh, good: it must be almost over! My feet hurt,” or something to that effect. But then, to my surprise, the service went on for a while longer! I remember wondering why it wasn’t over yet and why we kept praying stuff that it seemed we had prayed before… I realize now, of course, that really the only part that was the same as before are the words “Lord, have mercy,” and what we actually are agreeing with as we make that statement are prayers of thanksgiving to God for His mercy in allowing us to partake of communion, as well as prayers that we will leave the church and live in a way that is worthy of Christ’s presence in our lives. What a beautiful prayer the priest prays in this part of the service! Here it is, in case you’ve not read or heard the whole thing before:

“O Lord, who blesses those who bless Thee, and sanctifies those who put their trust in Thee: save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance; preserve the fullness of Thy Church; sanctify those who love the beauty of Thy House; glorify them in recompense by Thy divine power, and forsake us not who hope on Thee. Give peace to Thy world, to Thy Churches, to the priests, to all civil authorities, to our Armed Forces, and to all Thy people: for every good and perfect gift is from above, and comes down from Thee, the Father of Lights, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, thanksgiving, and worship: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: now and ever, and unto ages of ages.”

The resounding “Blessed be the name of the Lord!” that follows has always been a favorite in our family. I love to watch children sing this song! At least in our parish, the children are the ones whose faces light up as they sing with abandon. And well they should! As they sing this song, they are fulfilling what they’ve been learning by praising God with all their hearts, even in this “ending” part of the service.


Our children are learning to receive the blessing offered by God through the priest before they leave the church. Our youngest children are learning what the priest is saying to us, and why: “In God’s house, the priest gives us God’s greeting and blessing. He says, ‘Peace be with you all.’ Whenever the priest blesses us, he is giving us God’s greeting. He is asking God to be with us and give us peace.” (3)


Our older children are learning how we should respond to that blessing: “After the final prayers, the priest then stands outside the altar to offer a special blessing to the people. The people approach to venerate (kiss) the cross or the priest’s hand and receive a piece of holy bread. The people will also take holy bread, called antidoron, to give to those who may have been absent from church.” (4)

600778_10200529834720142_90822482_n - Edited

Our children are learning to pray as they leave the church. The prayer of St. Simeon the God-Bearer is a good one to pray as one leaves the church: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word. For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.”


Our children are learning to take their faith with them as they leave after the Divine Liturgy.  “When we have received Holy Communion we have God’s Kingdom within us which we must take with us into the world so that although we might live in the ordinary world, within us we will have God’s Kingdom. This is very important because there are so many forces which try to lead us astray – try to make us do bad things…” (5) Also, “when the Liturgy is finished, we are told to ‘depart in peace.’ Having tasted God’s peace in the Liturgy, we are sent forth to bring this peace to the world. If we go back into the world of our daily life with the peace of God in our hearts, we will, almost unconsciously, bring a little bit of it to our surroundings. Just think, if everyone did that, we would be surrounded by peace and the world would be a better place.” (6) And finally, “When we leave the church after partaking of the Eucharist, we immediately begin our journey back to the chalice. The Eucharist is at the center of our lives, and the procession to the Eucharist is the journey of our lives.” (7)

I hope that you have benefitted as much as I have from this these weeks of studying what our children are being taught about the Divine Liturgy. I know that each Divine Liturgy that I have been privileged to participate in since beginning this blog series has taken on new meaning for me. I hope it is the same for you, dear brothers and sisters! May we continue to learn together with our children, may we keep bringing them to the divine services, and may we all cooperate together in “the offering of the people for the whole world.” May the Lord have mercy on us, and save us all! I’ll meet you at the chalice…


  1. Various, A Child’s Guide to the Divine Liturgy, Chesterton, IN: Ancient Faith Publishing, 2014, p. 46. (Available here
  2. Divine Liturgy set, Teaching Pics cards, #23. (Available here:
  3. Tarasar, Constance and Matusiak, V. Rev. Fr. John, Together With God, Orthodox Christian Education Commission, 1973, Lesson 19.
  4. Divine Liturgy set, Teaching Pics cards, #24. (Available here:
  5. Ashanin, Natalie, “Blessed is the Kingdom”, Little Falcons Magazine: #16, “God’s Kingdom,” pp. 4-6. (Available at )
  6. Ashanin, Natalie, “The Liturgy – Where We Meet God”, Little Falcons Magazine: #52, “Holy Liturgy,” p. 8. (Available at )
  7. Various, The Way the Truth the Life, Yonkers, NY: Orthodox Christian Education Commission, 2003, p. 104. (available here:


Following are additional related quotes on this part of the service and/or ideas of how to help children in the Divine Liturgy:


“So, you came to church and were granted to meet Christ? Don’t leave if the service hasn’t finished… When you go to the theater, you don’t leave if the show hasn’t finished. You enter church, the Lord’s home, and do you turn your back on the immaculate Mysteries? …What are you doing, O man? While Christ is present, His angels stand by, and your brethren are still communing, you abandon them and leave? Christ offers you His holy Flesh, and you won’t wait a bit, to thank Him at least in words? When you sit at a supper you don’t dare leave the moment you have been filled, while your friends are still sitting at the table. And now when the dreadful Mysteries of Christ are being performed, you drop everything in the middle and leave? Do you want me to tell you whose work those who leave before the Divine Liturgy finishes—and thus don’t partake in the last thanksgiving prayers—are doing?” ~St John Chrysostom, as found here:


“Let us depart from the Divine Liturgy like lions who are producing fire, having become fearsome even to the devil, because the holy Blood of the Lord that we commune waters our souls and gives us great strength. When we commune of it worthily, it chases the demons far away and brings the angels and the Lord of the angels near us. This Blood is the salvation of our souls; with this the soul is washed, with this it is adorned. This Blood makes our minds brighter than fire; this makes our souls brighter than gold.” ~St John Chrysostom, as found here:

“‘How would you react if you found out your Army instructor was a Medal of Honor winner, your Med School lecturer was a Nobel Prize winner, or your Business School teacher was a member of the Fortune 500 who did it all from scratch.  You’d pay attention more.  You’d have more respect.  You would not want to miss a lesson.  And you would become better by your attentiveness.  Christ the Great Rabbi is here.  Among us. Teaching us. Preparing us for paradise.”


Gather ideas for how to best benefit from Sunday morning church attendance by listening to Fr. John Finley’s podcast addressing just that, at


This may be an excellent time to review church etiquette together as a family. Fr. David Barr offers his wisdom in “Some Things You Should Know while in Church” in this article:


Here are some simple ideas of ways to make participation in the Liturgy meaningful for younger children:


“Introduce to your children an activity illustrating the way we worship and more importantly, why we worship the way we do in the Orthodox Church. Below are some talking points for the lesson, as well as a coordinating activity or craft.” ~ from