Category Archives: Belief

A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Chapter 4

Note: This series of blog posts will offer ideas of how to build up the little church in your home. The series will take a closer look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker. Each week we will take a look at one portion of the book and focus on the wisdom and ideas offered there. Find an overview of the entire book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/gleanings-from-a-book-blueprints-for-the-little-church-creating-an-orthodox-home-by-elissa-bjeletich-and-caleb-shoemaker/

We thank Elissa Bjeletich, Caleb Shoemaker, and Ancient Faith Publishing for granting us permission to share the book with you in this way. Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints

 

Chapter 4: Creating Sacred Space

The fourth chapter of “Blueprints for the Little Church” encourages its readers to set up prayerful space in their homes. The authors encourage their readers to create a sacred space, a “family altar”, where they regularly meet to pray together. This space may begin with only an icon or two, but can grow until it includes many items that enhance our worship at Church, as well: multiple icons, candles, incense, holy water, etc.

The chapter talks its readers through selecting a location and icons, then taking each small step needed to prepare both the space and the family for worshipping in that space. It addresses the use of candles and incense in family worship. Readers are encouraged to have, use, and drink holy water in this space. They are also encouraged to acquire some holy oil to keep here for use, as needed. It also discusses the creation and use of a vigil lamp in the family worship space.

As is the case in the rest of the book, throughout this chapter the authors have included related quotes from families other than their own. Each cites their own experience while encouraging readers to set up their home’s altar in a way that works best for the members of their own family. The chapter is helpful for readers of all levels of Orthodox experience: it will be useful to readers who are starting from scratch, but it will also offer the opportunity of re-evaluation to those who have a family altar that has been used for decades.

Do you have a parenting question for the “Blueprints For the Little Church” authors? Connect with Elissa here: https://elissabjeletich.com/contact/ and email Caleb at caleb.shoemaker@gmail.com.

 

Here are a few gleanings from chapter 4:

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“Setting up an icon corner is a crucial part of building your little church. Just as our church buildings are elaborately adorned with images of Christ, His Mother, and the saints, our homes reproduce this in small scale with a family icon corner.” (p. 71, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Each family will bring their own flavor to the icon corner, and no two will be exactly alike. What all family altars have in common is that they are the gathering place for prayer and worship in the daily rhythm of life.” (p. 73, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Begin with two icons: Christ and the Theotokos. If all you have is a cross, that’s a good starting place, too… If you only have one icon, place it in a conspicuous location in your house and use it for prayer. If you have no printed icons, you have your children and your spouse to pray with you—the living icons of Christ in your life!” (p. 75, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Lighting candles and burning incense also help to shore up the notion that we are bringing the parish into our own home and  that our houses are places where Christ and His angels and saints are welcome.” (p. 78, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Most Orthodox families will receive holy water once or twice a year to bring home. St. John Maximovitch recommended getting enough to last you the whole year and making sure you drink some every chance you get.” (p. 82, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“To use [holy oil]: Place a little of the oil on your finger and make the sign of the cross on the forehead of the person being blessed. This can be a very powerful and emotional experience for parents and their children. Don’t hurry. Pray for each person and sign their head with a cross in the name of the Trinity. You may find your children crave this special connection between the two of you and the saint to whom you are praying.” (p. 87, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“As you set out to create sacred space in your home, know that you cannot do this wrong. Set aside a space in your home and let your icon corner develop as it suits your family best. The important thing is to gather together in prayer and to make room in your home to live out your faith.” (pp. 88-89, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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On Creating (and Using) a “Godfulness Jar”

Mindfulness is a buzzword in current culture. One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions for mindfulness is this: “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” Many mindfulness practices encourage focusing your mind on positive thoughts. Unfortunately, the thoughts being promoted are not necessarily compatible with our Orthodox Christian faith.

The practice of focusing our minds should not be a foreign concept to us as Orthodox Christians. We hear often in the Divine Liturgy a reminder to focus: “Let us attend!” It depends upon what we focus that causes that focus to be for our growth or our downfall. If we are focusing our mind on God and on words that point our mind to Him, that focus is helpful – even essential – to our spiritual growth. But focusing on ourselves and/or what we can do cuts us off from growing closer to God. So, instead of the self-focused affirmations encouraged by many mindfulness practices, we need to choose to fill our minds with Godly thoughts including those found in the scriptures, in prayers, and words spoken by the Church fathers.

If you (or anyone in your family) struggles to focus on God or to keep your mind on Him in the face of discouraging or distracting thoughts, you need to find a way out of that downward spiral! Here is an idea of one easy-to-make tool which may be helpful to that end. Create a “Godfulness” jar. “What in the world is that?” you may ask? Well, it’s a jar that contains arrow prayers, scriptures, and quotes from Church fathers all aimed at calming and soothing your thoughts by pointing them to God.

Godfulness Jar Illustration

To make your own “Godfulness” jar, fill a clean, empty jar with quotes that can be drawn out and pondered, whenever one’s mind needs to be calmed, soothed, focused, or quieted. However, instead of loading the jar with slips of paper containing personal affirmations (as is encouraged in some mindfulness circles), include arrow prayers, verses, and quotes from saints. Label the jar “Our Godfulness Jar”, since each item inside points its reader’s mind to focus on God.

Godfulness Jar pictoral version

Families with young children may wish to create a slightly different “Godfulness Jar”. Instead of slips of paper with a quote, prayer, or verse to be read, collect small icon cards, photos of peaceful places you have visited together, and pictures from church – such as the candle table, smoke rising from the censor, photos of parts of the iconostasis, etc. These cards and pictures can be pulled out of the jar and “read” as needed by a young person needing to adjust their focus. Place these “pre-reading” items in a plastic “Godfulness Jar”.

After you create a “Godfulness Jar”, store it where everyone in your family can reach it. Encourage your family members to pull out one slip (or picture) whenever they feel that they’re anxious, afraid, overloaded, angry, etc. They can read and re-read it until their mind is focused on God instead of the disturbing thought(s). After they’ve read and focused on the quote, they can keep it with them as a reminder, or return it to the jar to be used again by someone else. (Remember to visit the jar yourself, when you need it!)

Keep your “Godfulness Jar” in mind as you pray, read scriptures, and read the Church Fathers. As time passes, you will collect more and more quotes to add to it, to replace any that have gone missing. With use, your jar will help to fill your mind with thoughts of God and with His peace.

Find a “starter set” of quotes that you can cut apart to put in your jar here.

Here are a few samples of the “Godfulness Jar” quotes in the starter set:

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Lenten Sundays Series: The Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross

This is the fifth in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share a little about that week’s focus, including related quotes from Church fathers and/or scriptures that can be helpful to our spiritual growth. We will share each blog early, to give you time to read it before that particular Sunday arrives. It is our hope that, by taking a few minutes to study these Sundays before the day arrives, we will be better prepared to partake in all that the Church has to offer us through this beautiful season of the year.

On the third Sunday of Great Lent, we celebrate the Sunday of the Holy Cross. We’re halfway through Lent, and perhaps some of our determination and eagerness for the Lenten journey is waning a bit. That is exactly why the Church Fathers chose this Sunday for us to commemorate the Holy Cross.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann, in his book “Great Lent”, reminds us that throughout Great Lent we are crucifying our self, and trying to live up to this week’s Gospel reading. The Gospel reading for the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross is from Mark 8 and 9, and reminds us of Christ’s command, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). Schmemann goes on to explain that it would do us no good to take up our cross and follow Christ had it not been that He took up the Cross in the first place. “It is His Cross, not ours, that saves us. It is His Cross that gives not only meaning but also power to others.” (1, pp 76-77)

In gratitude for His taking up the Cross, and to encourage us to continue taking up ours, the Church gives us this Sunday. Christ’s example of suffering willingly and completely reminds us that our struggles are small in comparison. But it also reminds us that He understands struggle and pain. Today’s epistle reading exhorts us, “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16) Christ’s conquering death by taking up the Cross offers us the hope of resurrection as well as the assurance that our struggle is not in vain: it leads us towards Him, towards heaven.

The placement of the Veneration of the Holy Cross in the middle of Great Lent is more than just an encouragement for us to keep going. It also is the fulfillment of an earlier type. “It’s very beautiful, actually. Think of Paradise, the Garden of Eden. The Tree of Life was placed in the middle of the garden of Eden, and here we find the Holy Cross — often said to come from the wood of the Tree of Life, for this wooden Cross is indeed the means to eternal life. The Holy Church places it here [in the middle of Great Lent] to remind us of Adam’s sin, and to remind us that it is only through the Holy Cross that we will find eternal life.” (2, pp 107-108, brackets mine)

And so, in the hope of the resurrection; with determination to continue our struggle (for He understands struggle and has made a way for us); let us sing with joy on the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross, “Oh Lord, save Thy people and bless thine inheritance, granting to Thy people victory over all their enemies; and by the power of Thy Cross, preserving Thy kingdom!”

Glory to God for His example, His victory, and His great mercy towards us and our own struggles, through the Life-Giving Cross!

Resources:
1. Schmemann, Alexander. Great Lent; Journey to Pascha. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974.
2. Bjeletich, Elissa and Kristina Wenger. Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families. Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019.

Here are a few quotes from Church fathers about this Sunday and/or the Holy Cross; along with a few resources that you may find helpful in your own struggle, or to share with your family:
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“Why do we honor the Cross with such reverence that we make mention of its power in our prayers after asking for the intercession of the Mother of God and the Heavenly Powers, before asking for that of the Saints, and sometimes even before asking for that of the Heavenly Powers? Because after the Saviour’s sufferings, the Cross became the sign of the Son of Man, that is, the Cross signifies the Lord Himself, incarnate and suffering for our salvation.” ~ St. John of Kronstadt
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“The Cross is wood which lifts us up and makes us great … The Cross uprooted us from the depths of evil and elevated us to the summit of virtue.” ~ St John Chrysostom
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“Glory, O Lord, to the power of Thy Cross, which never fails! When the enemy oppresses me with a sinful thought or feeling, and I, lacking freedom in my heart, make the sign of the Cross several times with faith, suddenly my sin falls away from me, the compulsion vanishes, and I find myself free… For the faithful the Cross is a mighty power which delivers from all evils, from the malice of the invisible foe.” ~ St. John of Kronstadt
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“O mighty Cross of the Lord, manifest thyself: show me the divine vision of thy beauty, and grant me worthily to venerate thee. For I speak to thee and embrace thee as though thou wast alive.” ~ (Source lost)
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“Shine, Cross of the Lord, shine with the light of thy grace upon the hearts of those that honor thee. With love inspired by God, we embrace thee, O desire of all the world. Through thee our tears of sorrow have been wiped away: we have been delivered from the snares of death and have passed over to unending joy. Show us the glory of thy beauty and grant to us thy servants the reward of our abstinence, for we entreat with faith thy rich protection and great mercy. Hail! Life-giving Cross, the fair Paradise of the Church, Tree of incorruption that brings us the enjoyment of eternal glory: through thee the hosts of demons have been driven back; and the hierarchies of angels rejoice with one accord, as the congregations of the faithful keep the feast. Thou art an invincible weapon, an unbroken stronghold; thou art the victory of kings and the glory of priests. Grant us now to draw near to the Passion of Christ and to His Resurrection. Hail! life-giving Cross, unconquerable trophy of the true faith, door to Paradise, succor of the faithful, rampart set about the Church. Through thee the curse is utterly destroyed, the power of death is swallowed up, and we are raised from earth to heaven: invincible weapon, adversary of demons, glory of martyrs, true ornament of holy monks, haven of salvation bestowing on the world great mercy. Come, Adam and Eve, our first father and mother, who fell from the choir on high through the envy of the murderer of man, when of old with bitter pleasure ye tasted from the tree in Paradise. See, the Tree of the Cross, revered by all, draws near! Run with haste and embrace it joyfully, and cry to it with faith: O precious Cross, thou art our succor; partaking of thy fruit, we have gained incorruption; we are restored once more to Eden, and we have received great mercy. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen.” ~ from Great Vespers on Saturday Evening before the Third Sunday of Lent
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“Whenever, then, you Christians adoring the Cross, know that they are adoring the Crucified Christ, not the mere wood… [The Cross and the representations of the saints] are not our gods, but books which lie open and are venerated in churches in order to remind us of God and to lead us to worship Him.” ~ Saint Leontius of Naples,Cyprus
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Find a printable meditation on the cross, which your family can read together and then discuss, here: https://www.goarch.org/documents/32058/2618758/familygospellesson_exaltcross.pdf/e7defd43-540f-4578-b66e-3c1ecbc5bc7e
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Learn more about the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross, and consider what it means to take up our own cross, by listening to Fr. Thomas Hopko’s talk on the subject, in this podcast: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/sunday_of_the_cross
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Do you venerate the cross genuinely, from your heart? This short but challenging homily will encourage you to do so even more sincerely: http://media.orthodox.net/sermons/great-lent-sunday-03_2014-03-22+before-thy-cross-we-bow-down-in-worship.mp3

On the Sacraments: the Sacrament of the Eucharist

This post is part of a series about the sacraments of the Orthodox Christian Church. In this post, we will look at the Orthodox Christian Sacrament of the eucharist.

Of the many sacraments of the Church, the Holy Eucharist is central. “Everything in the Church leads to the eucharist, and all things flow from it. It is the completion of all the Church’s sacraments—the source and the goal of all of the Church’s doctrines and institutions.” (1) If one takes a moment to think about the sacraments of the church, it is evident that this is true! Baptism, chrismation, and confession make us eligible and prepared to receive the eucharist. Ordination provides the blessed hands (and heart) to prepare and serve it. Marriage and unction flow from the abundant grace of the eucharist, and both of these sacraments can/should go on to become healing elements for members of the Church and society in general. So all of the mysteries of the Church have the eucharist at their heart.

But what does the word mean? And how did this sacrament begin? The Orthodox Study Bible’s definition of eucharist explains that the word is “taken from a Greek word [Ευχαριστία] meaning ‘thanksgiving.’”(2, p. 1779) It goes on to remind the reader that during the Last Supper, our Lord gave thanks, then it reminds us that “embodied in the communion service is our own thanksgiving.” (ibid)

How beautiful it is that this thanksgiving that we find in our communion service was actually begun by our Lord Himself when He gave thanks in the midst of the Last Supper (which was a celebration of the Jewish Passover meal). When Christ told His disciples to eat and drink the bread and wine as His Body and Blood, that action “became the center of the Christian life, the experience of the presence of the Risen Christ in the midst of His people.” (1) They did just that, and we continue to do it today. The eucharist has been practiced in the Holy Orthodox Church since the first century, according to the Didache!

The sacrament of eucharist is available to all members of the Orthodox Church, and is “strictly understood as being the real presence of Christ, His true Body and Blood mystically present in the bread and wine which are offered to the Father in His name and consecrated by the divine Spirit of God.” (1) Because of this, we take the eucharist very seriously, preparing our hearts and our bodies with prayer, confession, and fasting before communing, and reserving the act of communion for Orthodox Christians in good standing with the Church.

Glory to God for His gift of the sacrament of the eucharist! May He make us worthy to partake of it, and as we do, may He cleanse and purify us that we may become ever more like Him!

Sources:

  1. Hopko, Fr. Thomas (2011, October 5). The Sacraments: Holy Eucharist. Retrieved from https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/holy-eucharist .
  2. Various editors. (2008). The Orthodox Study Bible. USA: St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. (available here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/osb-hardcover )

 

Here are some scriptures and quotes from Church Fathers on the sacrament of the eucharist, as well as a few resources that you may find interesting and helpful as you study the sacrament.

What resources have you found helpful? Comment below and share them with the community!

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“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” (John 6:56, NKJV)

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“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.’” (Matt. 26:26-28, NKJV)

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“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”  (1 Cor 11:23–26, NKJV)

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“If the poison of pride is swelling up in you, turn to the Eucharist; and that Bread, Which is your God humbling and disguising Himself, will teach you humility. If the fever of selfish greed rages in you, feed on this Bread; and you will learn generosity. If the cold wind of coveting withers you, hasten to the Bread of Angels; and charity will come to blossom in your heart. If you feel the itch of intemperance, nourish yourself with the Flesh and Blood of Christ, Who practiced heroic self-control during His earthly life; and you will become temperate. If you are lazy and sluggish about spiritual things, strengthen yourself with this heavenly Food; and you will grow fervent. Lastly, if you feel scorched by the fever of impurity, go to the banquet of the Angels; and the spotless Flesh of Christ will make you pure and chaste.” ~ St. Cyril of Alexandria

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“Whenever we enter the church and draw near to the heavenly mysteries, we ought to approach with all humility and fear, both because of the presence of the angelic powers and out of the reverence due to the sacred oblation; for as the Angels are said to have stood by the Lord’s body when it lay in the tomb, so we must believe that they are present in the celebration of the Mysteries of His most sacred Body at the time of consecration.” ~ St.  Bede the Venerable

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“Until a man’s earthly life finishes its course, up to the very departure of the soul from the body, the struggle between sin and righteousness continues within him. However, high a spiritual and moral state one might achieve, a gradual or even headlong and deep fall into the abyss of sin is always possible. Therefore, communion of the holy Body and Blood of Christ, which strengthens our contact with Him and refreshes us with the living streams of the grace of the Holy Spirit flowing through the Body of the Church, is necessary for everyone.” ~ St. John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco

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“For a man’s complete sanctification, the body of the servant of the Lord must be united with the Body of Christ, and this is accomplished in the Mystery of Holy Communion. The true Body and the true Blood of Christ which we receive become part of the great Body of Christ.

Of course, for union with Christ, the mere conjoining of our body with the Body of Christ does not suffice. The consumption of the Body of Christ becomes beneficial when in spirit we strive towards Him and unite ourselves with Him. Receiving the Body of Christ, while turning away from Him in spirit, is like the contact with Christ which they had who struck Him and mocked and crucified Him. Their contact with Him served not for their salvation and healing, but for their condemnation. But those who partake with piety, love and readiness to serve Him, closely unite themselves with Him and become instruments of His Divine will.” ~ St. John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco

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“When going to the Holy Mysteries, go with simplicity of heart, in full faith that you will receive the Lord within yourself, and with the proper reverence towards this. What your state of mind should be after this, leave it to the Lord Himself. Many desire ahead of time to receive this or that from Holy Communion, and then, not seeing what they wanted, they are troubled, and even their faith in the power of the Mystery is shaken. The fault lies not with the Mystery, but with superficial assumptions. Do not promise yourself anything. Leave everything to the Lord, asking a single mercy from Him — to strengthen you in every kind of good so that you will be acceptable to Him. The fruit of Communion most often has a taste of sweet peace in the heart; sometimes it brings enlightenment to thought and inspiration to one’s devotion to the Lord; sometimes almost nothing is apparent, but afterward in one’s affairs there is a noted a great strength and steadfastness in the diligence one has promised.” ~ St. Theophan the Recluse

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eucharist

Revel in the beauty of this multifaceted list of what the eucharist is, by Fr. Alexander Schmemann: http://ww1.antiochian.org/eucharist

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“The policy of closed communion does not imply that those outside the Orthodox Church are considered not to be Christians, or not to be saved. The Church explicitly refuses to pass judgment concerning the salvation of any individual, within or outside her walls. But having received the deposit of Faith from the Lord and His Apostles, and having faithfully kept it intact down to this day, the Church must protect that deposit by extending communion only to those who have united themselves to her.” ~ Fr. James Bernstein, http://store.ancientfaith.com/communion-a-family-affair/

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In what ways is the sacrament of the eucharist like the coal in Isaiah 6:7? Read this article to find out: http://ww1.antiochian.org/holy-eucharist-live-coal

On Struggle

Struggle. The word itself may make us shudder inside. In this culture of “live for yourself; do what feels good; if it doesn’t work for you, quit,” struggle is often labeled as evil, and we feel inclined to avoid it at all costs. Throughout time, humans have disliked struggle and attempted to be freed from it. Some have even considered struggle to be evidence of sin or wrongdoing, even touting freedom from struggle as evidence of godliness.

So, what’s an Orthodox Christian supposed to do with struggle? Should we try to evade it? If we are struggling, does that mean that we are failing in our Christian life?

Let’s begin by taking a look at the scriptures to see what they say about struggle. According to Strong’s Concordance, the Greek word for struggle is ἀγωνίζομαι, or agónizomai. It translates to English in different ways, including “to contend for a prize,” as well as “struggle.” We find it in Luke 13:24, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able”. We also find it in 1 Corinthians 9:25, “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” I Timothy 4:8-10 also uses the word: “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” And we find it again in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” According to the scriptures, struggle is necessary for the Christian life. Striving, competing, laboring, and fighting the good fight all help to urge us in the right direction: toward a deeper faith in God and His Kingdom.

What about the holy fathers? Do they teach us about struggle?
Yes, they do. If we examine their lives, we can learn much about struggle! But they also use words to teach us about it. Here are a handful of their many teachings about struggle:

“Nothing is so incongruous in a Christian, and foreign to his character, as to seek ease and rest.” ~ St John Chrysostom

“Of course, it would be easier to get to paradise with a full stomach, all snuggled up in a soft feather-bed, but what is required is to carry one’s cross along the way, for the kingdom of God is not attained by enduring one or two troubles, but many!” ~ Elder Anthony of Optina

“Do not grow despondent and enfeebled in spirit, seeing the constant struggle within you of evil against good, but like a good and valiant soldier of Jesus Christ, our great Founder, struggle courageously against evil, looking at the crown, prepared by the Lord for all who conquer evil in this world and in their flesh. ‘To him that overcometh, will I grant to sit with Me in My Throne’(Rev. 3:21).” ~ St. John of Kronstadt

“Brothers, as long as you have breath in your bodies, strive for your salvation. Before the hour comes in which we shall weep for ourselves, let us practice virtue eagerly. For I tell you that if you knew what good things are in heaven, what promise is laid up for the saints and how those who have fallen away from God are punished and also what torments are laid up for those who have been negligent – especially those who have known the truth and have not led a way of life worthy of it so as to inherit that blessedness which is reserved for the saints and to flee the punishments of these torments – then you would endure every pain in order to be made perfect in the virtue which is according to Christ.” ~ St Pachomius

“It is by warfare that the soul makes progress.” ~ St. Tikhon of Voronezh

Struggle. Sometimes it hurts. Always, it is hard. But, according to the scriptures and the holy fathers, it is necessary. Struggle allows us to embrace our Lord more tightly. It enables us to see His hand at work in our life. It provides us with opportunities to trust Him more fully. So, although we may not like struggle, and we may be tempted to try to be freed from it, we must not. Struggle helps us grow away from sin and towards godliness.

May the Lord strengthen us and help us to struggle.

 

Here are additional quotes and encouragement for when we struggle:

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“Every Christian should find for himself the imperative and incentive to become holy. If you live without struggle and without hope of becoming holy, then you are Christians only in name and not in essence. But without holiness, no one shall see the Lord, that is to say they will not attain eternal blessedness. It is a trustworthy saying that ‘Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners’ (I Tim. 1:15). But we deceive ourselves if we think that we are saved while remaining sinners. Christ saves those sinners by giving them the means to become saints.” ~ St. Philaret of Moscow

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“If you want to serve God, prepare your heart not for food, not for drink, not for rest, not for ease, but for suffering, so that you may endure all temptations, trouble and sorrow. Prepare for severities, fasts, spiritual struggles and many afflictions, for ‘by many afflictions is it appointed to us to enter the Kingdom of Heaven’ (Acts 14,22); ‘The Heavenly Kingdom is taken by force, and they who use force seize it’ (Matt 11:12).” ~ St. Sergius of Radonezh

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How can we succeed in our struggles? Not on our own! “Without Christ it is impossible to correct ourselves. We will not be able to detach ourselves from our passions. On our own we cannot become good. Without me, you can do nothing (John 15:5). However much we try, we will achieve nothing. There is one thing we must do, and that is turn to Him and love Him with all our soul (Mark 12:30). Love for Christ: this is the best and sole remedy for the passions.” Read more of St. Porphyrios’ words on spiritual struggle in his article here: http://gometropolis.org/website/on-spiritual-struggle-by-elder-porphyrios/

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Do you ever feel frustrated by your spiritual struggle? You’re not alone! Maybe this will encourage you in those moments: https://orthodoxroad.com/feeling-frustrated-with-the-spiritual-struggle/

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Read about struggle in these excerpts from the diary of St. John of Krondstadt: http://livingorthodoxfaith.blogspot.com/2009/12/on-struggling-by-st-john-of-kronstadt.html (Note: you may wish to meditate on this, one part at a time. There are many excerpts and each is full of wisdom.) It begins thus: “ Do not fear the conflict, and do not flee from it: where there is no struggle, there is no virtue; where there are no temptations for faithfulness and love, it is uncertain whether there is really any faithfulness and love for the Lord. Our faith, trust, and love are proved and revealed in adversities, that is, in difficult and grievous outward and inward circumstances, during sickness, sorrow, and privations…”

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“There are said to be five reasons why God allows us to be assailed by demons. The first is so that, by attacking and counterattacking, we should learn to discriminate between virtue and vice. The second is so that, having acquired virtue through conflict and toil, we should keep it secure and immutable. The third is so that, when making progress in virtue, we should not become haughty but learn humility. The fourth is so that, having gained some experience of evil, we should ‘hate it with perfect hatred’ (cf. Ps. 139:22). The fifth and most important is so that, having achieved dispassion, we should forget neither our own weakness nor the power of Him who has helped us.” ~ St. Maximos the Confessor

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“A certain brother fell into temptation, and through tribulation relinquished the garb of monkhood; and he wished to begin to renew his ascetic life, but he saw the great difficulty of the matter, and he drew back, and said, ‘When shall I ever find myself in the same condition as I was formerly?’ And through fear he did not begin his work, and he went and made the matter known to an old man, and the old man said, ‘The matter is thus: There was a certain man who possessed an estate, and he held it to be of no account and did not cultivate it, and it became full of tangled undergrowth and thorns. Now one day he remembered it, and he sent his son, and said unto him, “Go, clean the estate.” And when he had gone and seen the abundance of the undergrowth he was afraid, and said to himself, “When shall I be able to clean away all this undergrowth?” And he threw himself upon a bed, and lay down, and went to sleep, and thus he did every day. Then his father went forth and found that he was asleep, and that he had done nothing; and he said unto him, “How is it, my son, that no work whatsoever hath been done by thee?” And he said to his father, “When I came to work and saw the abundance of the undergrowth, I was afraid and said, “When shall I be able to clean all this away?” And his father said unto him, “My son, work according to the measure of thy sleep each day, and it shall be sufficient for thee”; and when he heard this the young man plucked up courage, and did thus, and in a short time he cleansed the estate. Thus also thou shalt not be afraid but begin the work of thy rules, and God, by His Grace, will establish thee among those in the first rank.’ Now when the brother had done thus he was helped.” ~ The Desert Fathers

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“A small but persistent discipline is a great force; for a soft drop falling persistently, hollows out hard rock.” ~ St. Isaac of Syria

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“Let all of us who wish to fear the Lord struggle with our whole might, so that in the school of virtue we do not acquire for ourselves malice and vice, cunning and craftiness, curiosity and anger. For it does happen, and no wonder! As long as a man is a private individual, or a seaman, or a tiller of the soil, the King’s enemies do not war so much against him. But when they see him taking the King’s colors, and the shield, and the dagger, and the sword, and the bow, and clad in soldier’s garb, then they gnash at him with their teeth, and do all in their power to destroy him. And so let us not slumber.” ~ St. John Climacus

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“The Kingdom of Heaven is the very highest beatitude, and the greatest glory and honor, and the most inexhaustible riches; and therefore if great cares and labors are necessary in order to obtain a trifling quantity of earthly wealth, how can such an unspeakable treasure be obtained without labors?” ~ St. Innocent

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“The Lord has ordained that for a little labor, which we temporarily endure in this life, we shall be vouchsafed the Kingdom of the heavens, life everlasting, ineffable delights, and endless rest. As fitting, we believe these promises of the Lord. Therefore, let us leave all the sweet pleasures of the world, as false and short-lived, that we may inherit what is true and ageless.” ~ St. Irene Chrysovalandou of Cappadocia

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We’ve been reading about how struggle benefits us. But it also benefits our children! Are we allowing them to struggle? This article may help us to think about how we can improve! http://blog.connectionsacademy.com/benefits-of-struggling-are-you-helping-your-child-too-much/

On Pursuing Virtue: Patience

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/03/01/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

Fr. Thomas Hopko begins his discussion of patience by stating that, in order for us to completely obey God in all that we do, we must have the virtue of patience. This gives us an idea of how important this virtue is! Our Lord demonstrated for us perfect obedience to God in the context of incredible patience.

Patience is one of the fruits of the spirit, and it truly needs to come to us from God, with our cooperation. The Cambridge dictionary defines patience as “the ability to accept delay, suffering, or annoyance without complaining or becoming angry.” This does not come easily to us, nor does it “just happen” in our life. Fr. Thomas writes that we begin to acquire patience when we courageously and hopefully wait on the Lord through everything that comes our way. That means putting up with other people (as well as with ourselves!), and slowly growing in the grace of God. He says it takes a daily effort on our part to follow God’s commandments and do what He wills for our life. “Only those who are patient, according to Christ, bring forth fruit from the seeds of God’s Word that are sown in their hearts.”

Patience does not come quickly. It is work to pursue godliness, and that work is hard and long. Fr. Thomas reminds his readers that we can’t become patient just by using our own willpower: it is a grace that comes to us from God, a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

He writes that patience “is the power to ‘stay on the cross’ no matter what, doing only the will of the Lord.” Patience is not a solitary virtue: it is closely tied with faith, hope, love, humility, and obedience. Fr. Thomas encourages those who want to grow in patience to work at it daily through fasting, prayer, communion, remembering God, abiding in Christ, and viewing life through the light of God’s Kingdom. Uniting ourselves to Christ and living by the Holy Spirit’s power, he writes, is what the spiritual teachers tell us is the only way to acquire the virtue of patience.

 

May we all grow in the virtue of patience, and thereby love God as we should!

Find Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussion of patience, in its completion, here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/patience
Here are some scriptures, quotes from saints, and quotes from Orthodox resources that can help us as we work on attaining the virtue of patience in our own life:
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“For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light.” (Colossians 1: 9-12 NKJV)
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“Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ.” (2 Thess. 3:5 NKJV)
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“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.” (1 Tim. 6: 10-11 NKJV)
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“And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Heb. 6: 11-12 NKJV)
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“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1: 2-4 NKJV)
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“Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and late rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble . . . against one another, that you may not be condemned; behold the Judge is standing at the doors. As an example of suffering and patience . . . take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast. You have heard of the patience of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. “ (James 5: 7–11 NKJV)
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“…the Lord says: ‘In your patience possess ye your souls’ (Luke 21:19). He did not say: in your fast or in your vigil. By patience I mean that patience which is of God and is the queen of virtues and the basis of manly valor. It is in itself – peace amid strife, stillness in the midst of storm and an impregnable position for those who have acquired it.” ~ St. Gregory of Sinai

 

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“We should not find it strange if the passions and sicknesses war against us, but rather we should entreat God to give us patience, that great balm for the wounds of the soul as well as of the body. Patience is the one and only diamond which beautifies the Christian and makes straight the rough road of our salvation. Patience is the fortitude of the soul, the support, the deep root that holds the tree when the winds beat against it and the streams strike it.” ~ Elder Ephraim of the Holy Mountain (Athos)
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“…we are men who have no patience and no desire for a little labor and [no desire] to brace ourselves to accept anything with humility. Therefore we are crushed [by our difficulties]. The more we run away from temptations, the more they weigh us down and the less we are able to drive them away. Suppose a man for some reason dives into the sea: if he knows the art of swimming what does he do when a great wave comes along? He ducks under until it goes past and then he goes on swimming unharmed. But if he is determined to set himself against it, it pushes him away and hurls him back a great distance, and when again he begins to swim forward another wave comes upon him, and if he again tries to swim against it, again it forces him back, and he only tires himself out and makes no headway. But if he ducks his head and lowers himself under the wave, as I said, no harm comes to him and he continues to swim as long as he likes. Those who go on doing their work this way when they are in trouble, putting up with their temptations with patience and humility, come through unharmed. But if they get distressed and downcast, seeking the reasons for everything, tormenting themselves and being annoyed with themselves instead of helping themselves, they do themselves harm. If painful experiences crowd in upon us, we ought not to be disturbed; allowing ourselves to be disturbed by these experiences is sheer ignorance and pride because we are not recognizing our own condition and, as the Fathers tell us, we are running away from labor…we want to acquire virtue without effort.” ~ St. Dorotheos of Gaza
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“Patience adorns the soul with diamonds which are not of the earth but belong to the Jerusalem that is above. Patience is a sweet word. Patience is a sweet breath. Patience is an invincible weapon. Patience is a priceless adornment of man. Patience is a blessing of God.” ~ from the Spiritual Counsels of St. Raphael in “Modern Orthodox Saints, v. 10”
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“True patience consists in bearing calmly the evils others do to us, and in not being consumed by resentment against those who inflict them. Those who only appear to bear the evils done them by their neighbors, who suffer them in silence while they are looking for an opportunity for revenge, are not practicing patience, but only make a show of it.” ~ St. Gregory the Great
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“Let us not be resentful or faint-hearted when something unexpected happens to us, but allow Him, who knows all these things well, to test our soul in the fire for as long as He wants; for He does this in the interest and for the benefit of those being tested…A physician is a physician not only when he bathes and feeds the sick man…but even when he cauterizes and cuts…Knowing therefore that God is more tender-loving than all physicians, do not enquire too curiously about His therapy or ask Him for an explanation of it.” ~ St. John Chrysostom
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“You are angry with your neighbor, you despise him, do not like to speak peaceably and lovingly to him, because there is something harsh, abrupt, careless, unpleasant to you in his character, in his speech, in his manners—because he is more conscious of his dignity than perhaps is necessary; or because he may be somewhat proud and disrespectful; but you yourself, your neighbor’s physician and teacher, are more guilty than him.
‘Physician, heal thyself.’ Teacher, teach yourself.
Your own malice is the bitterest of all evils. Is it then possible to correct malice by means of evil? Having a beam in your own eye, can you pull out the mote from the eye of another?
Evil and faults are corrected by good, by love, kindness, meekness, humility, and patience.” ~ St. John of Kronstadt
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“It took Noah a hundred years to build his ark; log upon log he dragged to the construction. Do as he did; drag log upon log to your construction, patiently, in silence, day after day, and do not inquire about your surroundings. Remember that Noah was the only on in the whole world who ‘walked with God’ (Gen. 6:9), that is, in prayer. Imagine the crowding, the darkness, the stench, that he had to live in until he could step out into the pure air and build an altar to the Lord. The air and the altar you will find within you, explains St. John Chrysostom, but only after you have willingly gone through the same narrow gate as Noah.” ~ from “The Way of the Ascetics,” by Tito Colliander
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“Do not be surprised that you fall every day; do not give up, but stand your ground courageously. And assuredly the angel who guards you will honour your patience. While a wound is still fresh and warm it is easy to heal, but old, neglected and festering ones are hard to cure, and require for their care much treatment, cutting, plastering and cauterization. Many from long neglect become incurable. But with God all things are possible [Matthew 19:26].” ~ St. John Climacus
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Patience and diligence are good partners. If you missed it before, be sure to catch this post on diligence from our first round of blogs about the virtues: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/on-pursuing-virtue-diligence/

On Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing: Principle 6: Teach the Joy of Repentance

Note: This series of blog posts will focus on principles important to Orthodox Christians who are raising children. The series will feature a closer look at Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ book, “Parenting Toward the Kingdom: Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing.” Each week we will take a closer look at one section of the book, which is divided into 6 basic principles of child rearing. Find an overview blog post about the book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/02/08/gleanings-from-a-book-parenting-toward-the-kingdom-by-dr-philip-mamalakis/. We thank Dr. Mamalakis and Ancient Faith Publishing for giving us permission to share his wisdom with you in this way. Purchase your own copy of his book here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/parenting-toward-the-kingdom/.

Principle #6: Teach the joy of repentance

Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ book “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” is filled with wisdom and encourages godly parenting. The sixth and final principle, “Teach the joy of repentance,” is yet another challenge towards godliness, and is as invaluable to the souls of the parents who follow it as it is to those of their children. He begins with a chapter on repentance, then discusses the joy of repentance, and closes with the encouragement that Orthodox Christian homes nurture repentance and confession.

The chapter on repentance begins by encouraging parents not to focus on “doing” parenting, but rather to focus on loving God while responding to our children. He emphasizes that only a saint would parent perfectly, and that we should not expect ourselves to be able to do so. Rather, we should expect ourselves to learn and grow, just as we expect our children to learn and grow. The Holy Spirit will raise in us the fruits necessary to be the parents we must be. If we want to best reach our long-term parenting goals, we need to labor to acquire the Holy Spirit. As we work towards living a Godly life, it is important that we not cover over our mistakes; but rather that we use those mistakes to teach our children the joy that is found in repentance. Since repentance is at the heart of our Christian life, it follows that teaching repentance should be at the heart of our parenting.

Dr. Mamalakis begins the chapter on the joy of repentance by stating that joy and repentance are not usually associated with each other. However, he continues, it becomes apparent that learning to repent brings about healing in our lives, and that healing in turn, brings joy. When we make mistakes, it is important that we reflect on what we’ve done wrong, repent, and have a plan for how to learn from that mistake. When we do so, our children learn that Kingdom values/virtues are real as we are teaching them how to attain those values and virtues.

The final chapter of the book encourages us to nurture repentance and confession in our home. He suggests that including forgiveness with our other parenting interventions is an appropriate way to nurture such an atmosphere. He encourages the reader to be quick to forgive and to only keep track of our children’s misbehaviors so that we can better figure out how to help our children work through them, not in order to use those misbehaviors against our children. He recommends that families regularly ask each other for forgiveness as part of their Saturday evening preparation for communion. This sets the stage for a natural affinity for confession, wherein we restore our relationship with God by asking His forgiveness for our sins. He encourages the reader to nurture a culture of prayer in the home. Prayer helps us to better parent while also allowing our children to personally experience God’s grace. He reminds the reader once more that the ultimate goal of Orthodox parenting is that when our children are grown and leave home, they carry with them Christ and His Church. Repentance, confession, and prayer along the way will help us achieve that goal.

Have a parenting question for Dr. Mamalakis? Ask him here (at the bottom of the page): http://www.drmamalakis.com/contact.html

Here are a few gleanings from the chapters related to Principle #6:  

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“Ultimately, children need to be loved. If we are more focused on parenting the right way than loving our kids, that’s not good for our kids.” (p. 281; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“The truth is, we don’t have the patience, kindness, gentleness, wisdom, and self-control to be the types of parents we might want to be, but God helps us acquire these virtues as fruits of the Holy Spirit. If we focus on trying to do everything perfectly, we will fail. If we focus on acquiring the Holy Spirit, the values and virtues of the Kingdom of God will fill our hearts and our homes.” (p. 284; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“The ascetic self-denial required of parenting is an act of love directed at our children and, we believe, toward Christ. We, as parents, are invited by Christ in every parenting interaction to turn away from our own impulses and desires and draw close to Him… As we respond to God’s invitation, we teach our children how God is inviting them, in every interaction, to love.” (p. 287 ; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Our children don’t need us to be perfect to teach them the right way to live, but they do need us to admit when we’ve fallen off the path. The very act of admitting we made a mistake teaches our children that there is a right way, and we blew it. When we repent we show our children both the right path and how to get back on the path when we fall off.” (p. 288; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“When we embrace repentance and forgiveness, our mistakes and failures are no longer fatal. Repentance, confession, and forgiveness are the antidotes to sin, hurt, and our human failings Sin and failures are a fact of our human condition and of family life… We can either give our children a legacy of our sins or a legacy of repentance. We don’t need to be perfect families, but if we want to grow, learn, and  be perfected as families, we need to be repentant.” (pp. 292-293; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“As we understand the true nature of repentance and confession, we can see that it is more about love, joy, and freedom than sin, criticism, or blame. It only makes sense to learn to do this as often as possible.” (pp. 296-297; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“…the goal of parenting is to have children internalize the joy of repentance as one of the greatest gifts we have to thrive in marriage and in life. Children don’t need consequences as much as they need repentance in their hearts. .. When our children experience the joy of reconciliation that follows the pain of sin and repenting, they learn that our sins are temporary, but God’s love and mercy are eternal.” (p. 298; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“It can be difficult for our kids to see that we are human Our mistakes hurt and confuse them. But if they see that we are repentant humans, they learn that we really love them and that repentance is real. Consider how you want your children to respond when they misbehave, and model that for them when you misbehave… Even in our failures—particularly in our failures—we can teach our children how to thrive in life.” (pp. 302-303; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Teaching children to ask for forgiveness allows us a pathway to address misbehaviors when there are no consequences or when consequences don’t make sense. If we hand out consequences for every misdeed, family life becomes nothing but a series of consequences for mistakes. Rather, if we require our children to ask for forgiveness, family life becomes filled with constantly getting back on the right path.” (p. 305; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“When our children misbehave, we need to be quick to forgive them as we take the side of their feelings and set limits to their behaviors. Forgiving our children means letting go of our feelings of fear, hurt, shame, frustration, anger, or resentment when they misbehave… Forgiving our children is about healing our hearts as our children learn and grow. It is an inner disposition in our hearts that says, ‘I will not hold your misbehaviors against you. I love you no matter how long it takes you to learn how to behave. And you have to learn how to behave.’” (pp. 307-308; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“When our children see that we are trying to live out the Gospel in our homes and going to regular confession as part of that journey, they make the connection between the Gospel they hear in church and the struggles and learning that happen in the home. In this way, our children learn that God and His Kingdom are real. Parenting is not about stopping misbehaviors but about shaping children’s hearts and minds according to the Gospel and God’s Kingdom.” (p. 314; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“We don’t always know how to respond to our children, where to set the limits, and what the consequence should be, but we can always pray. As we learn to turn to Christ in prayer and to parent with prayer, we will discover the endless love of God, which enables us to parent in peace and raise our children in peace, joy, and love.” (p.316; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“To parent toward the Kingdom requires us to improve the way we interact with our children in every situation and to connect our hearts and homes to Christ and His Church… That doesn’t solve their problem or make their lives easy, but it does allow them to internalize the reality of God and the values and the virtues of His Kingdom deep within their hearts. That way, when they leave our home, they carry within their hearts Christ and His Church to guide them toward the Kingdom.” (p. 319; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)