Category Archives: Church

A Glimpse at “The Mystery of the Holy Light” written by Anna Iakovou and illustrated by Spyros Gousis

Every year, to our great joy, we receive the Light of Christ at Pascha. We receive a flame for our Pascha candle in church from our priest, during the Paschal liturgy. But Christ’s Light comes of its own accord each year in Jerusalem, at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We call this the Miracle of the Holy Fire, and it happens every Holy Saturday. 

Have you ever thought about this miracle and wondered what it is like when the Holy Fire descends and fills the Sepulcher? Have you ever wished that you could be right inside there with the Patriarch as he receives that Holy Fire, the Light of Christ? If so, you’re not alone: almost 100 years ago, someone else was wondering the very same thing…

The Mystery of the Holy Light, written by Anna Iakovou, and illustrated by Spyros Gousis, tells the story of a young monk who wished to see the Holy Fire arrive! The monk was named Father Mitrophanes, and it was his job to guard the Holy Sepulcher. Father Mitrophanes was very humble and did not feel worthy of doing this work, but he did it to the best of his ability, even going above and beyond what was required. When an accident inside the tomb of Christ required cleanup, he noticed that the ceiling of the sepulcher was covered in soot from years of candles burning! Fr. Mitrophanes received a blessing to go into the Sepulcher and carefully clean the soot off so that none of it would fall onto the marble slab where Our Lord lay, and ruin it. Beneath the soot, to everyone’s surprise, Fr. discovered something incredibly beautiful! He also found a hidden niche high in the sepulcher wall that could maybe help him fulfill his heart’s desire to see the Holy Fire descend. 

Read this book to find out what beautiful thing Father Mitrophanes discovered beneath the soot, and whether or not his heart’s desire was fulfilled. Based on a true story that happened in 1926.

Adults and older children alike will enjoy this story, and younger children will be drawn to its illustrations but may need help with some of the wording. 

Find The Mystery of the Holy Light, by Anna Iakovou, illustrated by Spyros Gousis, here: 

We thank Newrome Press for sharing this book with us, so that we can share it with you

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts.


Preparing to Begin Great Lent

Great Lent is coming soon! Every year, Great Lent is a joyful time of opening our hearts more fully to Christ, as we prepare to celebrate His resurrection. It offers us a wonderful opportunity to evaluate our Christian life and begin to implement changes that enable us to better love God and our fellow humans. We have gathered a handful of resources that may be helpful to you and the children in your care. Here are some of the resources that we have gathered, beginning with part of a helpful article by Ann Marie Gidus-Mercera, called “Ways to Share Great Lent and Pascha with Your Child,” from Orthodox Family Life, printed in 1997. (Used by permission.)

Take your child to Church!

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

Explain the service that your family will be attending.

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

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

Prepare your child for Lent.

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

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

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

Here are some additional resources that you may find helpful: 

Here is a printable Lenten-focused activity calendar, highlighting important days during Great Lent. This pdf features daily suggestions of activities that families can do together, with the goal of engendering a more Christ-centered life during the Lenten fast. Find the calendar here:


Find lessons and activity ideas that can be helpful for families or Church school teachers during all of Great Lent here:


With this free printable page, children can create a “Lenten Treasure Chest” that they can fill throughout Great Lent with “coins” of REAL value: 


This blog offers ideas of ways to encourage children to participate throughout Great Lent:


If you are interested in additional fasting meal suggestions, here are two links that may be helpful:


Here is another creative way that a family can experience Lent together (including fasting, attending services, and giving to those in need). This easily explains and tracks the lenten journey on the family fridge: 


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


Love at Lent offers 50 daily task cards that each reinforce the Lenten values of kindness, forgiveness, prayer, generosity, gratitude, and love. Children or families can select one card each day of Great Lent and Holy Week, and then do the task that will help them to better love God and their neighbors. 


Find 40 activities (one for each day of Great Lent) here:


This offers an overview of each Sunday of Lent, complete with the message of the week and suggested activities:


Here is an overview of Lenten Sundays and Holy Week, with suggested steps of action, specifically geared for teens:


Need more ideas? Check out this blog post filled with additional Lenten resources for families and Church school teachers: 

A Glimpse at “Maria the Mother of God” by Athena Dasiou-Ioannou and illustrated by Christina Douligeri

Newrome Press offers a beautiful picture book about the Theotokos, Maria the Mother of God, written by Athena Dasiou-Ioannou, and illustrated by Christina Douligeri. This book takes its readers through the earthly life of Mary, the Theotokos. Young children will love it for its beautiful illustrations, and older children will learn much from the text, scriptures, and songs incorporated into its pages. 

Author Athena Dasiou-Ioannou’s experience in and love for teaching children is evident in the way that she weaves scripture and the hymns of the church into the book, seamlessly entwining them with the carefully-explained story. In this way, the familiar songs and scriptures that children hear in Church are tied in perfectly with the story, connecting the story of the Theotokos’ life with their own experiences in the Divine services. Mary’s Greek name, Maria, is used for most of the book, and many of the hymns are provided in both English and in Greek, which is beautiful for children who are learning to speak and read both languages. Some vocabulary words are gently introduced in the story line, and a handful are listed in a glossary at the back of the book.

Illustrator Christina Douligeri’s art for this book does more than merely bringing life and color to the story. The pictures are truly beautiful, and include many carefully-chosen details. Each illustration is filled with soul and emotion, while also including so many similarities to icons that it will help young readers to recognize the saints both in the book and in their icon.  

This book is a great resource for families and church schools alike. It can be read many times throughout the year, as the Church year passes and we celebrate the many feasts of the Mother of God. May she pray for all of us.

Find your copy of Maria the Mother of God, here: 

Thanks to Newrome Press for supplying us with a copy of this book so that we could write this review. 

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts.

A Glimpse at “Good News Bad News” by Alexandra Chakos, Illustrated by Mike Stonelake

Ancient Faith Publishing’s brand new chapter book for kids ages 7-12, Good News Bad News, was written by Alexandra Chakos and is illustrated by Mike Stonelake. This book is the story of a young man who really wants to win a fabulous bike prize by selling lots of things for his school’s fundraiser, and he will go to almost any length to do so. It is the story of two brothers who do not always get along. It is also the story of a parish raising money for a new church building while also working together to raise the children in their midst. And it’s the story of two regular parents (who happen to be a priest and presvytera) who are learning with (and through!) their children.

They may be a priest’s family, but the Papadopoulos clan could pass for any other Orthodox Christian family who are trying to learn to love each other and grow in the Faith. The author’s introduction at the end of the book reveals that this story was based on real-life events that Presvytera Alexandra Chakos experienced while raising her own family. This explains why the story is so realistic! It is told in such a way that readers come away feeling that they’ve just been spying on the Papadopoulos family as they interact with each other and help each other through life’s challenges. 

Mike Stonelake’s engaging illustrations add a touch of humor to the story. They provide additional dimension to the characters and setting, drawing the reader in even more fully to the Papadopoulos’ world. Each illustration better helps the reader understand that priests’ families do normal things, too. For example, the dad of the family still drags their Christmas tree through the front door: he just does so while dressed in his cassock!

Parents and children alike will enjoy this tale. It has been woven with scriptures, joy, and just enough surprises to keep the reader guessing! The heartwarming ending takes place (appropriately) on Christmas day.

Purchase your own copy here:

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts.

I Spy! Activity Page for “Beautiful Pascha: An Orthodox Coloring Book for Children”, Illustrated by Megan E. Gilbert 

Ancient Faith Publishing recently released a beautiful coloring and activity book called Beautiful Pascha: an Orthodox Coloring Book for Children. The pages are full of delightful illustrations, drawn by Megan E. Gilbert, related to the themes of Great Lent, Holy Week, and Pascha. Some pages are intended for coloring, while others are activity pages. Every page helps to point the reader/colorer towards the joy of the resurrection of Christ.

There are many details tucked into the book’s 64 pages. In order to maximize those details, and to add a fun challenge, there is now an I Spy! activity page of 33 things to search for as you read/complete the book. Some listed items are only found at one place in the book, while others are scattered on multiple pages. How many of each can you find? Happy hunting, blessed Lent, and a joyful resurrection to you and your family!

I Spy! activity page for Beautiful Pascha: an Orthodox Coloring Book for Children

Find the book Beautiful Pascha: an Orthodox Coloring Book for Children (including free pages that you can download and use while you wait for it to arrive) here:

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts

A Glimpse at the Book “101 Orthodox Saints” by Sarah Wright and Alexandra Schmalzbach, Illustrated by Nicholas Malara

Ancient Faith Publishing has just released a gift to the English-speaking Orthodox Christian world. Wrapped in a sturdy hardcover and crammed with art, stories, and facts, this gift is the beautiful book 101 Orthodox Saints, written by Sarah Wright and Alexandra Schmalzbach, and illustrated by Nicholas Malara. This book is a breath of fresh air, bright with color, alive with stories and facts, and filled to the brim with intrigue.

From its introductory pages, the photos and illustrations draw the reader in, and they become curious to learn more. What are saints? How does someone become one? What does it mean to venerate a saint? Who is called to be a saint? How can this book be used? All of these questions (and more) are answered in an engaging manner in the few pages at the beginning of the book.

The bulk of the book is a page-by-page alphabetical sharing of information about 101 carefully-selected saints from all regions of the world and from all generations, who cross both continents and time to breathe the life of Christ into the reader’s soul. An abridged version of each saint’s story is told on their page. The page also includes important details about the saint’s life (including a map of where they are from, several fun facts, and the dates of their birth and repose, as well as their feast day), their icon, and related photos. Artist Nicholas Malara’s rendition of each saint beautifully reflects their love for God and gives the reader a realistic glimpse into a moment of their life. 

The authors have sorted the particular vocations of each saint, marking their page with simple sketches explained in a legend at the beginning of the book. (For example, St. Columba of Iona was a priest, a missionary, and a monastic so there are three sketches right under his icon that identify him as such.) This marking system allows readers to quickly flip through, find, and read about all of the saints that were royalty (or fools for Christ, hymnographers, wonderworkers, etc.). The book includes a beautiful timeline that places Malara’s illustrations in the order of when in time each saint lived. The authors have also included a glossary that is both thorough and accessible, along with an extensive index. 

Young children will be mesmerized by the beautiful new friends they will see in this book. Some older children will flip through and read all of the fun facts, making connections between the saints in the book and the places and history they are learning about at school. Some will read the book from cover to cover. Even adult readers will “meet” new (for them) saints and be challenged to live in the same godly manner. 

This book offers 101 refreshing glimpses into what a life truly lived for Christ can look like. Each of the 101 saints’ lives are unique, and they differ in many ways. But all of them share one thing in common: their complete dedication to and love for Christ.

It is a good thing that this book is so sturdily bound. Whether it belongs to a child, a family, a Church school class, a Church library, or a classroom, it will be poured over again and again. And, each time the reader inhales a bit more about the saints whose stories are told in its pages, they will grow closer to God and to His holy Church. What a gift.

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts

Purchase your own copy of the book here:

A Closer Look at “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour: Lessons 4 and 5

This is the third in a series of closer looks at Fr. Michael Shanbour’s book “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” (available here: This beautifully illustrated hardcover book houses an Orthodox Christian catechism that is intended to be read with children. Find our overview of the book here: In each post of this series, we will focus on two chapters (called “lessons”) in the book. We will begin with a synopsis of each lesson followed by a handful of quotes found within its pages. We may also occasionally include a few related links offering additional background or information to the parents. It is our hope that these posts will be a useful resource for parents who are sharing the book with their children, as families learn together about the Orthodox Christian Faith.


Lesson 4: Jesus Christ

The fourth lesson of “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” begins by reminding the reader that sin has made us spiritually sick, and we are not able to turn back toward God on our own power. We need a strong medicine that can heal us. It goes on to talk about how Jesus, the Good Samaritan became the medicine that we need.

In this lesson, Fr. Michael incorporates objects like an inside-out t-shirt and a sponge with water to help the visual and tactile learners better understand what Christ did in taking on our inside-out humanity and absorbing our sins to remove them and turn our humanity aright once more. The lesson talks about all of the things that Jesus set aright. He healed our broken/sick humanity; He broke the power of death over us; and He also raised us to a new, resurrected life.

The new, resurrected body He had was like Adam and Eve’s had been before they sinned. And He did not leave that body on earth, but took it to heaven with Him! Then He sent us the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, to help us to receive God’s life and light. Christ is the most powerful Medicine for all of us!


Here are a few quotes from the lesson:


“We needed medicine, not just for our bodies, but for our souls. We needed the light to be brought back to our spiritual eyes… Like the man in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we needed someone to have compassion on us, to stop as we lay on the road wounded and half-dead and bring us back to life.” (p. 34, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)


“Jesus made our human nature alive again by joining it to God’s nature, taking all the sickness out. He re-made us by putting on what we’re made of. And now each of us can be re-made by putting Him on. That’s what happens when we are baptized. We put on Jesus Christ and his clean and healthy humanity. ‘As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.’” (p. 36, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)


“Jesus has become our Medicine. He remade us by becoming Man, He destroyed the power of sin and death through the cross, and He rose from the dead to take away our sickness and fill us with His life!” (p. 38, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)



Lesson 5: The Church


The fifth lesson of “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” begins with a concise review, to remind the reader of what has been discussed thus far in the book. The bulk of the lesson focuses on “Finding the Medicine”, beginning by making a life connection. The lesson invites its readers to remember a time when they were sick and/or injured, and what happened: likely they were taken to a clinic or hospital, which provided them with the needed treatment and/or medicine.

The lesson reminds the reader that the Church is our spiritual hospital. Christ is the Great Physician, and in the Church we find the medicine that our souls need. Our priest(s) are like “spiritual medicine practitioners”. They receive their orders from Christ and then apply the “medicines” that we need to be spiritually healed.

The medicine that the Church offers is God’s life, the Holy Spirit, which is offered to us through the Church. We in the Church call this “God’s grace”. The lesson goes on to cite two examples from the Scriptures of God’s grace pouring into someone and healing them. Then it establishes once more that God’s grace is poured out through the Church, Christ’s Body, for the healing of our souls and bodies.


Here are a few quotes from the lesson:


“Then Christ Jesus rose from the dead, ‘trampling down death by death.’ He swallowed up Death with Life! (1 Cor. 15:54) He beat the devil at his own game! God planned a surprise attack. The devil thought he had a mere man, but instead he found himself face to face with God!” (p. 40, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)


“So where do we get the spiritual medicine that the Lord Jesus has for us by His becoming Man, dying, and rising again? It is similar to the doctor and the hospital. Jesus is the Doctor, the Great Physician, and the Church is the Hospital. It is in the Church that we find the medicines for our soul. The medicine is from Christ, who is the Head, but we find it in the Church, His Body.” (pp. 41-42, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)


“But how is it that God’s grace is in the Church? Because Jesus is joined to His Church as a head is joined to a body… Does your head go anywhere without your body? I hope not! …Your head is attached to your body. It is one with your body. The same is true with Christ’s body. Christ and the Church are one.” (pp. 43-44, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)



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:

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:


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: and email Caleb at


Here are a few gleanings from chapter 4:


“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)


“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)


“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)


“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)


“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)


“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)


“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)



A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Chapter 3

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:

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:


Chapter 3: Church Services and Parish Life

The third chapter of “Blueprints for the Little Church” offers its readers encouragement and ideas for including their children in the life of their parish through frequent Church attendance and active involvement with parish life. It also begins to address incorporating the Orthodox Faith into their home life. Along the way, the authors extend grace to their readers, and spur them to do the same to themselves and their children, especially during the divine services.

The chapter addresses when to begin attending services with children. It offers strategies for the struggles that Church attendance can bring (not just to children, but also to their parents). Both authors chime in with examples from their own family life, and they also include stories and suggestions from other parents with varying levels of parenting experience. The authors encourage their readers to attend weekday services whenever possible, and to also find ways to include children in serving their parish and get to know other parishioners alongside that regular attendance. The chapter then discusses inviting your priest into your home for such events as house blessings, slavas, birth blessings, and serious illnesses.

This chapter is full of ideas and suggestions, but it is also full of grace. Readers will come away feeling encouraged to heighten their participation in the parish and to more fully incorporate the Faith into their family’s life. But they will also be relieved by the encouragement to extend grace to themselves – and their children – along the way. When they do so, it is for their own salvation, as well as their children’s.


Have a parenting question for the “Blueprints For the Little Church” authors? Connect with Elissa here: and email Caleb at

Here are a few gleanings from Chapter 3:


“‘It is vitally important for us as parents and as Christian adults in our home parish to communicate through words, actions, and attitudes that the children of the parish (all of them) are full members of the Body of Christ and are welcome at the services of the Church… We must develop welcoming, loving attitudes toward the children and young adults of our parishes— not in programs and activities, but in full inclusion. After all, we are joined with them in Christ through Baptism and the Eucharist… Be the loving example, the caring mentor, the welcoming friend to all families.’ — Caleb” (p. 47, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)


“The first… move you can make is to help your children develop a worshipful demeanor. When you say your prayers at home, ask them to behave as you’d want them to behave in church: stand, face the icons, pray. Don’t fight, don’t hit your sister, don’t scream… Signal to your children that worship in the home and worship in the church are the same—so they require the same kind of attention and respect.” (pp. 48-49, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)


(after a discussion offering ideas of some quiet distractions that some young children may need during a service) “Ultimately… distractions [during the divine services] are not the answer. We need to focus on our goal: Are we just trying to quiet the children down, or are we hoping to raise saints? If our goal is to invite them into the worship and to make them a part of it, then we must do the opposite of distracting them. We must constantly be bringing their attention back to the services.” (p. 53, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)


“Pride rears up in anger when a child dares to disobey or distract us, but humility defeats pride. We should remind ourselves we’re not perfect either. Our own minds wander; we lose focus; we forget to pray. We’re not infallible, and just as we ask God to forgive our iniquities and heal our infirmities, we must be even more merciful with children. The irony in this situation is that—because of our infirmity—we are focusing on the failures of our children and failing to recognize our own failure to engage in the liturgy.” (pp. 57-58, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)


“…coming to church more than once a week will integrate worship into your daily life. It’s an antidote to our modern problem of having separated our church lives from our daily lives, bringing church into the everyday.”

(p. 60, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)


“Try to resist the urge to compare yourself and your family to the other people in your parish. Know that the family that seems to be effortlessly perfect is likely struggling in ways you can’t see, and the family that seems to be a mess may in fact have a more profound piety than you would imagine. God knows our hearts, and we are here to support and love one another along the journey.” (p. 63, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)


“One of the wonderful functions of a priest is to visit you during those critical times, to support you through joy, struggle, and sorrow. Many families do not call on their priest for assistance, not understanding that there are special prayers and blessings he can offer. When we do call on our priest, we come to understand that along with powerful prayers, he brings comfort and reassurance, making the Church present at these most important moments.”(p. 68, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)


“Your parish is another family—consecrated by God to help you come to salvation… Your involvement in the life of the Church will bless and sanctify that community as the Holy Spirit works through you to bring the presence of Christ into every relationship… Go to serve, go to grow, go to love, go to learn. Your children will learn from you to form a lasting relationship with their future parish community, and their faith will be the stronger for it.” (p. 70, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)


In this 11 minute video, “Blueprints for the Little Church” author Elissa Bjeletich talks with Fr. Ted about bringing children to Church:


Gleanings from a Book: “The Barn and the Book” by Melinda Johnson

Fans of “Shepherding Sam” will be delighted to find both Sam (the boy) and Saucer (the corgi) are back! They each play an important role in “The Barn and the Book,” a brand new book by Melinda Johnson. (Don’t worry, if you did not read “Shepherding Sam,” you can still jump right into “The Barn and the Book” seamlessly!)

“The Barn and the Book” takes place on the grounds of the monastery of St. Gerasim and features Sam’s 3rd and 4th grade Sunday Church School class; their teacher, Sister Anna, and a few of the other nuns; a handful of parents; and of course Saucer the corgi and his friends – the other animals on the monastery farm.

The story happens during a Church year. The students and their families attend the church on the monastery grounds, because it is the only Orthodox church in the area. Throughout the course of the year, everyone works together to prepare to celebrate the monastery’s special anniversary in March. At the beginning of the book, Sister Anna invites her class members to write a story that will be shared at the anniversary celebration. This book is the story of how they find and write their stories in the context of life together. It features humor, realistic characters, and many lessons for its readers.

The story contains many humorous parts. For example, the mere idea and corresponding mental image of a corgi going to Sunday school brings a chuckle to the reader’s smiling lips. Well, he sort of goes to Sunday school… Actually, the corgi (named Saucer) just looks longingly in the window during class because his best buddy Sam is there. Lucky for Saucer, class meets in the basement of the church, so the window is right at corgi level! That is how he is able to keep a good eye (and smashed-to-the-window-pane nose) on things. Saucer is so accurately described that the reader feels they must be able to reach into the book and give him a good scritch.

But Saucer is not the only realistic character! Throughout the book, the reader feels bound to the characters as they experience everything from moments of frustration to those of genuine joy. Readers come to realize how a Sunday Church School teacher feels when no one listens. They want to peacefully wander in the prayer garden with Sister Anna. They also make a mad dash for the door of the Sunday Church School room when the sheep get out of the farm enclosure. They inwardly cheer on the children who challenge themselves to write a story for the celebration, first wondering if the children will be able to pull it off, then rejoicing alongside the others in the book when everyone is pleased (albeit surprised) by the results! Because of its genuine characters, by the end of this book, the reader feels that they have been a part of preparing the monastery for the big celebration.

There are plenty of lessons to be learned from the characters in this book. Take for example, the nun, Sister Anna. She learns a lot over the course of this story, and the reader will do well to learn along with her. First of all, she finally learns to stop comparing herself to others. She comes to understand that she must completely trust her gerontissa, and not to test God, demonstrating with both of these learnings the humility that comes with truly trusting those in authority over us. With her choice of how she handles frustration, Sister Anna teaches us the value of having (and using!) a prayer garden, and demonstrates how the act of stepping out of our routine to pray helps us to calm ourselves as we entrust our frustrations to God. Other characters’ experiences in the story remind us of things like the fact that miracles can happen, while also leaving us wondering whether animals really can talk at midnight on Christmas. Perhaps most importantly of all, an ordinary boy named Sam learns that being present in the moment and choosing to be thankful while in that moment is the most magical thing one can experience. This lesson is an important one for readers of any age.

The story begins in the fall and continues into the spring. Though it covers much of a year, a fairly significant part of the story happens right at Christmastime. Because of the book’s humor, genuine characters, and important lessons, this book will surely be loved by any family adding it to their pile of treasured holiday books!

Purchase your own copy of “The Barn and the Book,” available as a book or an ebook, here:

To listen to the book, purchase the audio copy of “The Barn and the Book.” Author Melinda Johnson reads the book, and listeners can enjoy both her unbridled enthusiasm and her special voices for each character!


Here are a few gleanings from the book and suggested related activities that your family can do together as you read the book, to extend the learning.


“Sister Anna was too short and pudgy to move quickly, but she did her best. She wanted to reach the prayer garden without being seen. It was too cold to sit there for long, but Sister Anna needed some quiet time.” (“The Barn and the Book” by Melinda Johnson, pp. 19-20)


Where do you go when you are frustrated, embarrassed, or angry? In “The Barn and the Book,” Sister Anna headed to the prayer garden. Sam went to the barn with the animals. Do you have a place that is quiet and peace giving? Maybe it is your family prayer corner, or somewhere else. Talk together as a family about good places to go when you need a minute to regroup and talk with God about what is happening in your life. It will not always be the same place for everyone in the family. What sort of atmosphere do the members of your family need? Consider creating a place that will meet those needs, if you haven’t already. Grow a prayer garden; or set aside part of your property for an animal or two; or create a quiet room or corner. Whatever that space needs to look like for your family, be intentional about making it happen, and encourage its use.


“‘Do the nuns like me?’ wondered Grace.

‘Sure they do,’ said Elias, grinning. ‘Nuns like everybody.’


Elias nodded. ‘The nuns even like Macrina,’ he said impressively. (“The Barn and the Book” by Melinda Johnson, p. 47)

Have you ever visited a monastery? Monasteries are such holy places for us to visit, where we can pray and rest. When we spend time in one, it is good for our souls and we come away refreshed and grateful for the experience.  Make a family plan to visit one and see for yourself how the nuns (or monks) like everybody! Ask your priest to recommend one for your family to visit. (Look here for additional ones:

“‘I set the stick up yesterday, and then I came to see if it fell down.’ Sister Anna clasped her hands and reclasped them, squeeze squeeze. ‘If it fell down, or if it didn’t.’
…The abbess smiled, but Sister Anna did not see her smile. ‘You have made a test with your stick.’

‘Yes, Gerontissa.’

‘You set a trap for God. In the garden. With a stick… You want Him to tell you something now, and He has not told you something for you to hear, so you set a trap for Him, to make Him tell.’” (“The Barn and the Book” by Melinda Johnson, pp. 96-97)
Sister Anna is not the first person who loved God and made a test (or, in the words of “The Barn and the Book,” “set a trap for God”) to try to get Him to answer a question. Have you ever done something like this? If so, you’re not alone! Even in the Old Testament of the Bible, we read a story about this. Gideon used the fleece of a sheep to ask for God’s guidance. Find the story in Judges 6:36-40. What did Gideon want to know (what was the reason he set out the fleece)? Did he get his answer? If you have the Orthodox Study Bible, be sure to read the footnotes on this passage. What was Gideon’s fleece the type of?

Find a lesson plan suggestion, complete with activity suggestions, on the story of Gideon, here:


“‘Do you think he will go in the barn?’ asked Grace, lowering her voice.

‘Go in the barn? What for?’

‘For the animals. You remember, like you told him.’

“Ohhhh. You mean to hear the animals talk at midnight on Christmas Ever?’

Grace nodded vigorously.

‘I don’t know. Won’t he be asleep?’

‘Maybe he could stay awake. Maybe I could stay awake. I want to go, too.’

Elias shrugged. ‘I don’t think your parents are going to let you go in the barn in the middle of the night.’” (“The Barn and the Book,” by Melinda Johnson, pp. 120-121)

Have you heard before about the idea that perhaps animals can talk at midnight on Christmas Eve? What do you think about that idea? Here’s one legend that offers a possible reason:

And here’s one family’s funny memory of a child who went to the barn on Christmas Eve to find out for herself if they really do:


“‘Hi, Macrina!’

Macrina turned sideways to see who was talking to her… ‘Hello, Grace… Thank you so much for the nice card. My mom gave it to me.’
Grace smiled happily. ‘You’re welcome!’

They walked a few steps more and had almost reached the refectory door when Macrina spoke again. ‘Do you want to sit with me at lunch?’

‘Sure!’ Grace gave a little skip. She was now even more certain that her card had brought Macrina back to health. Why else would Macrina want to sit with her?” (“The Barn and the Book,” by Melinda Johnson, pp. 106-107)

Have you, like Grace, ever done something small but kind for someone who was not so kind to you? Did it change your relationship in a positive way? Who in your life right now would benefit from a small kindness? What kind thing could you do for them? Of course, you can (and should!) pray for them, but what else? Write them a note? Secretly do a chore for them? Bake them cookies? If you need ideas of kind things to do for someone else, check out the ideas at the end of this blog ( or this one (


“…Some people might want to know why the monastery is called the Monastery of Saint Gerasim and the Lion. Saint Gerasim was an abbot at a monastery in the Holy Land a long time ago… He helped a lion with a hurt paw, and the lion became his friend and lived at the monastery. The nuns chose this saint because they helped the animals who lived at the farm that used to be here, and the farm turned into a monastery, just like Saint Gerasim’s lion sort of turned into a monk.” (part of Macrina’s story, from “The Barn and the Book,” by Melinda Johnson, p. 153)


To learn more about St. Gerasim (also called St. Gerasimos), check out this blog post: