Category Archives: Belief

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)

 

On Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing: Principle #3: Understand Struggles in Terms of the Values and the Virtues of the Kingdom of God

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 #3: Understand Struggles in Terms of the Values and the Virtues of the Kingdom of God.
Dr. Mamalakis’ third principle of parenting encourages parents to understand struggles in terms of the values and the virtues of the Kingdom of God. This principle is covered by two chapters in his book “Parenting Toward the Kingdom.” The chapters encourage parents to name their child’s struggle and to separate their own struggle from their child’s.

Dr. Mamalakis begins addressing this third principle by reminding the reader that if we are truly parenting toward the kingdom, we need to name our children’s struggles and frame every struggle that they encounter in the context of the kingdom. That is, we must look at each struggle in terms of the values and virtues of the Kingdom of God. Every struggle our children experience is an opportunity to help them learn those values and virtues. God has placed each of us into our family to struggle and learn together about His kingdom: that is what family life is all about. We parents need to watch our words, and choose carefully what messages we engrave on our children’s souls with the way in which we speak to them. Dr. Mamalakis offers real-life examples from his family, as well as suggestions of wording choices that point our children toward the Kingdom instead of cutting them down. Naming our children’s struggles and having them brainstorm ideas of ways to accomplish whatever is causing the struggle teaches our children how to do what is right on their own, instead of forcing them to comply to our own will. Along the way, we also are teaching our children the following: to connect Church life and home life; how to rightly view (and treat) their siblings; while demonstrating our delight to be struggling together with each of our children. It is important that we note their effort in their struggles, especially when they are making good choices in the face of those struggles. In order to be able to step back and name our children’s struggles, we first need to take a look at our own struggles as parents.

Dr. Mamalakis continues to address the third principle with a chapter encouraging parents to see our own struggles and to separate our struggles from those of our children. He helps the reader to understand that the way that we go about struggling to help our children with their struggles teaches them much about the Kingdom of God. He notes that children need their parents to stand lovingly beside them while they struggle and as they learn to pick themselves up. Children do not benefit from parents who just jump in and rescue them from their struggle. But neither should we abandon them in their struggle: we need to learn how to join them, to be with them and support them while they struggle and get back on track. It is not our job as parents to take away our children’s struggles: it is our job to help them learn to succeed in their struggles. As we do so, we must be continually mindful of our own struggles and how God is standing beside us in our struggle. Our own struggles help us to grow closer to Him and His Church.

 

May God help us all to learn to understand our family’s struggles (both our children’s and our own) in terms of the values and the virtues of the Kingdom of God.

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 #3:

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“Children learn important skills of life as they struggle to wait until after dinner for dessert. God gives us the struggles of dinner before dessert, and all the struggles of childhood, to help us acquire the values and the virtues of the Kingdom of God. (p. 89; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“In the home, in the struggles, is where we are learning patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, sharing, taking turns, helping others, and, essentially, selfless love. It is in the home that we are working out our salvation, being perfected in Christ, and being made holy.” (p. 89; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“What does sibling fighting or a child’s misbehavior have to do with the Kingdom of God? …These struggles catch me offguard all the time. In fact, I never have time for [my children’s] fights. However, I have to remind myself that this is what my time is really for.” (p. 91; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Consider what comes out of your mouth when you react to your children’s misbehaviors. Most of us end up saying the very things our parents used to say to us, no matter how much we swore we would never do that. It’s instinctive. Our parents’ statements are written on our souls, and what we say to our children in these moments will be engraved on their souls. We can choose the messages we want our children to carry with them their whole lives. Choose wisely. It is an act of love toward our children to engrave godly, biblical messages of truth on their souls.” (pp. 93-94; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Mistakes are understood to be part of the learning process—at school, at least. Why not at home? …If we say ‘You don’t listen,’ or ‘Why do you always lie around?’ or ‘You’re mean to your sister!’ these messages will end up etched on the souls of our children. We don’t want that. We want to engrave things on their hearts that will be useful for them the rest of their lives. ‘Listen to each other’s words.’ ‘First we clean up, then we rest.’ ‘Be kind to your sister.'” (p. 95; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“We want the language of the home to be filled with the virtues of God, even in the midst of the struggles. When children are distressed, they are not able to listen, and short statements go a long way toward communicating what is true. Remember, these struggles will happen all the time, and we have a long time to form our children by what we say. In the struggle is when they learn the most, and what we say in those moments is what they will remember the most.” (pp. 96-97; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“The art of parenting: Name their struggle. Keep the limits firm. Brainstorm. Repeat.” (p.101; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Naming their struggle, when done with compassion, communicates empathy and respect and allows us to join our children in their struggle without rescuing them. Parenting is not about getting children to do the right thing or making their life easy, but trying to walk close to them as they learn how to struggle to do the right thing.” (p. 103; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Allow each child to struggle in his or her unique way and delight in them, even though they struggle. One of the most powerful messages we can communicate to our children is that we are glad that we get to be their parents—and the best time to teach that is when they make a mistake or misbehave. We communicate that love and respect as we respond by naming their struggle, keeping limits firm, and giving consequences. Help everyone in the home recognize that we are all on the same journey, each of us struggles with different things along the way, and we’re glad we get to struggle with them.” (p.;107 “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Children don’t need to be praised or told that they are great, because those are empty words. What they do need is to have their efforts and good decisions recognized. This keeps the focus on the path we want them to keep walking on.” (p.109; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Our kids’ behaviors affect us in all sorts of ways. Our struggle as parents is to resist the temptation to react to misbehaviors and to respond at all times in the best interest of our children Our struggle is to focus on our long-term goals in every interaction with our children, no matter how we’re feeling… Their misbehavior might disturb our peace and our plans when they misbehave at home, or disappoint and embarrass us when they misbehave in public. That is our struggle, not theirs. It is not their fault they are children, and it is not their fault we struggle with their behaviors. Parenting is the intersection of our struggle as a parent and their struggle as a child.” (pp112-113; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“…to succeed as parents, we need to keep our struggle separate from our child’s struggle, and respond based on our child’s struggle, not our own. As we struggle to respond to our children, we model for them how to struggle and to respond to their challenges. As we cultivate the virtues of the Kingdom of God in our parenting, we teach our children how to live according to the virtues of the Kingdom of God.” (p.113; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Children need us to be close to them when they struggle, not to rescue them from the struggle. If we love our kids, we want to prepare them to succeed in life, which means helping them develop the capacity to get back up when they fall, dust themselves off, and ask for help if they need it.” (p. 115; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Just as the only way to strengthen our muscles is by stressing them, the only way for children to become strong is through struggling. This is where growth happens. However, we don’t need to abandon our kids in their trials or create trials for them. Life provides ample opportunities for children to struggle, learn, and grow. We need to learn how to join them in these struggles.” (p. 117; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Being alone in the struggle is what leaves lasting painful memories. If we want to raise disciplined and motivated children, we need to allow them to experience the normal hardships and struggles of life. If we love our children, we join them in those struggles. Children need struggles in order to thrive. They just don’t need to go through them alone.” (p. 121; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Taking time out to learn about parenting, giving yourself a time-out when you are about to react, and going to talk to someone about your struggles are great steps toward attending to your struggles. Once we recognize that the parenting problems we face are invitations for us as parents to grow, it opens up a whole pathway for our own healing… As we learn to attend to our struggles, resist the temptation to react, and learn to respond, we walk the path of healing and salvation. In fact, it is through the struggles of parenting that we can acquire the Holy Spirit and the virtues of the Kingdom of God.” (p. 124; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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Gleanings From a Book: “Sasha and the Dragon” by Laura E. Wolfe

Author’s note: I would have loved to have read (and re-read) this book with my children when they were younger! “Sasha and the Dragon” is a powerful story of a boy who conquers his fears with the help of St. Michael the Archangel. Although it is a picture book, “Sasha and the Dragon” is appropriate for Orthodox Christians of many ages because of all that it addresses. This story opens the door for conversations about how strange a new country feels to an immigrant; what to do when you are alone and afraid at night; the reality of the saints’ readiness to come to our aid if we ask them to; and how the light of Christ illumines our world when we invite Him to do so!

Sasha has just moved to New York City from Russia. He misses the familiarity of his old village near the river: its sights, smells, and sounds. He felt safe there, and close to God. His new home, however,  is filled with shadows and seemingly uncaring people. It is grey and cold, and no one seems to know or love God or His saints. Other boys his age seem to mock Sasha at every turn instead of befriending him. Even his new house is not a very comforting place: his Baba who used to sing to him lies still in a scary room at the end of the hall. Sasha is afraid of everything in New York City.

Night time is the scariest for Sasha. Even though he signs himself with the cross before going to bed, he always feels the grey, unfamiliar shadows of the city lurking. One night, as Sasha lies in bed trying to go to sleep, he hears sounds under his bed, which he discovers to be a huge dragon. To his dismay, the dragon comes out from beneath his bed. Sasha is terrified and just wants to hide under the covers. Instead, he finds the courage to do all the right things: he kisses the cross he is wearing and then prays for help! An icon of the Archangel Michael hangs on the wall by Sasha’s bed, and Sasha is confident of the Archangel’s help. He asks St. Michael to kill the dragon with his sword.

As the dragon approaches, St. Michael’s icon begins to radiate heavenly light into the dark room. He races out of the icon on his great red steed and kills the dragon with his sword. As he does so, the room is filled with peace and hope. Sasha drifts happily to sleep. The next morning he wakes to find a slash from the dragon’s claw still remaining in the floor of his room, covered with a golden feather from St. Michael’s wings.

That very morning Sasha begins to notice and enjoy New York’s colors and good smells. A scarlet feather drifts into his hand as he walks. When he meets up with two of the mocking boys, instead of cowering or retreating, he surprises them by offering the feather to them. Sasha even braves the spooky hallway to take the golden feather to his Baba. Her delighted smile encourages Sasha, and he begins to sing to her, for he is no longer afraid!

This story is a delight, and Nicholas Malara’s drawings fit it perfectly. The art in this book is part “normal” picture book, part superhero story. The figures that are the most realistic are the accurately styled icons found on some of the pages. The tone of the illustrations changes from gloomy greys and muted colors at the beginning of the story to cheery bright colors at the end. This change is clearly intentional, and it greatly strengthens the story.

“Sasha and the Dragon” is an excellent addition to an Orthodox family’s library. It has a great story which also presents multiple possibilities for family discussion. Chances are, this book will be read again and again, offering many opportunities to discuss its contents.

“Sasha and the Dragon”  is available from Ancient Faith Publishing here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/sasha-and-the-dragon/

Here are a few discussion ideas and suggestions of ways to learn together after reading “Sasha and the Dragon”:

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Bedtime fears come to mind with the book “Sasha and the Dragon.” We recently wrote a blog post addressing them that may offer some helpful links. You can read it here. https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/12/21/bedtime-and-other-rituals-conclusion-and-facing-fears-at-bedtime/

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“Sasha and the Dragon” features a little boy who has recently moved to New York. He may very well have been a refugee; at least his sudden change of environment hints at a similar experience. Help your children learn about what a refugee is (if the term is new to them), and how a refugee’s life changes radically when they arrive in their new place. This Jewish article suggests a few books that you may want to check out and read so see if they’d be helpful ones to share with your children, to better help them understand this topic: http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/216190/explain-refugee-crisis-to-kids

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What if your family were suddenly forced to be refugees? Think about that for a moment! How do you think a new world feels to those entering it? How did New York feel to Sasha when he moved there? Have you ever gone someplace completely different? Perhaps thinking back to that time can help you relate a tiny bit to a refugee’s experience, and give you an idea of what it would be like if you had to flee your own home and move someplace completely different, like Sasha did. When you were in that different place, did those around you speak your language? Did they do things the way that you are accustomed to doing them? Did you feel comfortable in the new place? Why or why not? Keep these thoughts in your mind as you meet new neighbors or classmates, refugee or not, and try to think from Sasha’s perspective: how does it feel to be that other person who finds themselves in a strange place? What can you do to welcome them and extend kindness?

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Have you or anyone in your household ever felt afraid? “Sasha and the Dragon” is an excellent segue into a discussion on fears – especially fear of the dark – and how to best handle those fears. Talk together about what Sasha does when he feels afraid: He makes the sign of the cross, reverences the cross that he is wearing, and then expectantly prays for help! Find other ideas of ways to help your child who is afraid here: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/what-to-do-when-your-child-is-scared/

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Who is St. Michael? Together as a family, learn more about him on the page dedicated to him in the back of “Sasha and the Dragon.” Look up other icons of him and compare them to the one in Sasha’s room. Learn to sing the troparion to St. Michael, found here: http://antiochian.org/sites/default/files/Trop-Archangel.Michael-HTM-choir.pdf . Remember to ask him for help and protection when you need it!

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Consider purchasing an icon of St. Michael to place in your child(ren)’s bedroom, to remind them that St. Michael is watching over them and ready to help them, as well. Or print an illustration of St. Michael for them to color and hang in their room.

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With older children, discuss the story. Also talk about the meaning/symbolism behind the story and many of the illustrations. For example:

  1. In the beginning of the story, everything in Sasha’s world is dark, grey, hushed, shadowed, and Sasha’s baba’s room “smells like the dead crow he had found at the park”. Why do you suppose it is this way? Do the shadows reflect how Sasha feels in any way? How do the pictures in the beginning of the book make you feel?
  2. Sasha sees dragon shadows everywhere at the beginning of the story. They are not mentioned in the story, per se, but show up in the illustrations. How many dragon shadows can you find in the book? What do  you suppose is the reason that the illustrator included these shadows in these illustrations? What do you think they represent?
  3. How do the other children respond to Sasha at the beginning of the story? Why do you suppose they do that? Does Sasha like it? How do you know? Have you ever felt that way around other children?
  4. What does Sasha do to help calm his fears? What do you do when YOU feel afraid? Can you tell about a time when you did something just like Sasha does, and it helped you? Why do you think it helped?
  5. The dragon in Sasha’s room was very real to Sasha! Do dragons exist in the world? What do you think Sasha’s dragon was or represents? Do you have any “dragons” in your life?
  6. Why did Sasha turn to St. Michael for help with the dragon in his room? What do you know about St. Michael that makes him a good saint to ask for help with your own “dragons”?
  7. What other saints can help us with the “dragons” in our life? How can we get them to help us?
  8. The illustrations in the book make us look hard at the difference between God and His angels and saints and satan and his “helpers” (for example, in this book, the dragon). How do the illustrations help you to see the difference between the two? Does that difference appropriately illustrate the difference in real life?
  9. Sasha does something that shows his complete trust in St. Michael’s ability to save him. What does he do? When you are feeling afraid and attacked, to whom do you turn? Do you have the courage to trust God and His saints fully to help you in those times? Why or why not? Try to remember Sasha kneeling on his bed, pointing right at the dragon, and shouting, “Kill it with your sword!” every time you are feeling afraid!
  10. How does St. Michael enter Sasha’s bedroom? Why do you think the author included smells and sounds in her description of his entrance? How does it make you feel about St. Michael’s presence with Sasha?
  11. Describe St. Michael’s victory over the dragon. If you were there, what would you have thought? Did St. Michael accomplish what Sasha asked him to do, or did he accomplish even more? What makes you think that?
  12. Is Sasha’s life any different after St. Michael kills the dragon in his room? Just by looking at the picture, how can you tell?
  13. Sasha finds a feather on a gash in his floor. What is special about the feather? How would you feel if you found a feather like that in your room? What would you do with it if you found one?
  14. How does Sasha’s world change on the morning after St. Michael’s visit? Describe what Sasha sees as he goes out for a walk with his mother. Is anything different? What is missing?
  15. What does Sasha do with the two feathers he receives? Why do you suppose he does that? How do the others feel after they receive a feather from Sasha?
  16. Compare the first illustration in the book to the last page of Sasha’s story. Are these illustrations alike or different? How so? And how did it happen that they came to be that way? Then compare Sasha at the beginning of the book to himself at the end. Is he the same, or different? How can you tell?

On Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing: Principle #1: Always Parent with the End in Mind

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 #1: Always parent with the end in mind.

Dr. Mamalakis encourages us to “Think Long Term” and to consider “How Children Learn” in the first two chapters of “Parenting Toward the Kingdom,” which address the first principle of parenting: “Always parent with the end in mind.” Parenting with the end in mind requires that we think beyond the moment and our short-term goals (ie: for peace and quiet at the dinner table) to what our long-term goals for our children may be (ie: for them to learn to work out their disagreements in a godly manner) and act towards that end. To be able to do so, we need to think first of what type of adults we wish our children to be when they are grown. Dr. Mamalakis suggests that, as Orthodox Christian parents, we think far beyond earthly “success” as a goal for our children, and look instead to what will make our children successful followers of Christ. He cites examples from the scriptures and from Church tradition that can help us to know the values and virtues that should be our goal for our children. He urges that we parent patiently and consistently, always keeping our end goal in mind. He offers a list of short-term goals that can easily tempt us away from our long-term goals. He shares this list so that we can be aware of these potentially-hazardous short-term goals and how they can harm our long-term desires for our children. He reminds us that we will struggle to succeed in this; but that our children need to see us struggle. The important thing is that we respond in an adult-like manner, and that our responses move all of us toward our mutual goal of godliness.

Parenting with the end in mind also requires that we give consideration to the way that children learn. Rather than learning about how they should live and conduct themselves best through lecture, our children are best able to learn this through their daily interactions with us. Struggling to acquire the values and virtues of the Kingdom of God will help our children to better learn and thus acquire them. In that sense, struggle is good. Our children need to experience everyday struggles with life, while being guided by parents who are struggling as well but firm in our convictions to lead our children to the Kingdom of Heaven. Dr. Mamalakis suggests that our three most important parenting tools are our life example, our relationship with our children, and how we speak to them. He states that the thing that teachers our children the most is our own behavior. He gently reminds us that God is at work through matter, both in icons and in His living icons (everyone around us). Dr. Mamalakis advises us to remember that our children are icons of Christ, and that we must treat them as such, and thus teach them to treat others in the same way. He reminds us that because children are always learning, we must always be intentional in how we live our life, how we relate to our children, and in what we say to them.

Chapter 1, “Think Long Term” can be read in its entirety (along with the acknowledgements and introduction to the book) at http://store.ancientfaith.com/parenting-toward-the-kingdom/, if you would like to sample it for yourself!

Here are a few gleanings from the chapters related to Principle #1:

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“The best place to begin a conversation on parenting is at the end. We need to know what we’re working toward so we can talk about how to accomplish our goals. Parenting is a long-term commitment and a long-term process.” (p. 17 ; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Sometimes our short-term goals can distract us from our long-term goals. Parents are tempted to intervene to stop misbehaviors in the short term in a way that undermines our long-term goals. That is like giving your child the answer to his math homework. In the short term, he finishes his work more quickly and without struggle, but in the long term, he doesn’t learn math. Getting a child to stop misbehaving can solve the short-term problem of misbehavior, but it does not necessarily teach him, long-term, how to control his own behavior. Sometimes we need to give up our short-term desires to work toward our long-term goals.”  (pp. 18-19; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“God’s desire is for us to raise children who know Him, who live in His love, and who walk in His ways. God wants our children to know who He is and grow up near Him, to become saints. That is success.”  (p. 20; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Successful children are those who internalize the values and virtues of the kingdom of God, so that when they go away to college or get married they live according to these values—not because we are watching or because we say so, but because they believe these things deeply in their hearts.” (p. 23; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Parenting requires patience—not the patience that puts up with inappropriate behavior, but the patience that intervenes effectively, repeatedly, as long as our child struggles. This allows our children the opportunity to struggle to grow, to learn, to love, and to acquire the values and virtues they will need as adults. Patience means we respond consistently and appropriately every time they struggle, because we have our long-term goals in mind.”(p. 25; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“If we love our children, we walk with them through the struggles; we don’t remove the struggles.” (p. 28; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Parenting itself is a struggle we cannot escape… Children need human parents who struggle to learn with them. If you’ve taken a moment to consider your long-term goals for your children, or God’s long-term goals for them, you’ve already taken the first step toward helping your children. We should expect children to act like children. The best we can do as parents is to act like adults in the way we respond, and choose the response that moves us toward our long-term goals.”(p. 28; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Children are shaped in and through each interaction we have with them, from the moment of conception to the moment we depart this life. God gives us each interaction with our children as a means of communicating His truths.

“More specifically, children learn most by how we respond when they misbehave. Children learn that we love them no matter what when we respond respectfully and effectively when they fight, talk back, disobey, or stand on tables…”(p. 31; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“The three most important tools we have as parents are:

>> The way we live our own lives,

>> the way we relate to our children, and

>> what we say to them.” (p. 32; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Children will learn what is true by how they see us behave more than by what they hear us say.” (p. 34; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“The truth is that God loves us deeply and cherishes each and every one of us, no matter how we behave. Each of our children is uniquely loved and adored by God—so much so that He gave His only Son for each one. Our children are incredibly valuable and special to God, not because they are perfect and no matter what they say or how they act. God simply loves them…
“Children will internalize this truth about themselves and God if we treat them with love and respect—all the time, but particularly when they misbehave. Children can only learn unconditional love when they experience their parents’ love and respect when they misbehave.” (p. 35; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Parenting is about raising children who understand themselves and others as icons of Christ. This is true self-esteem.” (p. 36; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“If we want to teach our children respect, they need to feel respected by us, even when they talk back. If we want them to learn how to listen, they need to feel heard, even when they don’t listen to us. If we want them to know the nature of God’s love for them, they need to experience God’s love from us, particularly when they are unloving toward us. Children really do learn what they live—most deeply when they struggle and misbehave.” (pp. 37-38; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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