Category Archives: Church

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

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

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

 

Chapter 4: Creating Sacred Space

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

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

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

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

 

Here are a few gleanings from chapter 4:

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

***

“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: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/gleanings-from-a-book-blueprints-for-the-little-church-creating-an-orthodox-home-by-elissa-bjeletich-and-caleb-shoemaker/

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

 

Chapter 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: https://elissabjeletich.com/contact/ and email Caleb at caleb.shoemaker@gmail.com.

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSRcSfva1-Y&feature=share

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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: http://store.ancientfaith.com/the-barn-and-the-book/

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! https://www.audible.com/author/Melinda-Johnson/B004RXKWF4

 

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.

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“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.’

‘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:http://www.orthodox-christianity.org/orthodoxy/countries/usa/usmonasteries/)
***

“‘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: https://missionbibleclass.org/old-testament/part2/judges-and-ruth/gideon-and-the-fleece/

***

“‘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: https://tarapollard.wordpress.com/2013/12/13/the-legend-of-the-talking-animals-2/

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: http://www.walkdownthelane.com/animals-talk-on-christmas-eve/

***

“‘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 (https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/try-a-little-kindness/) or this one (https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/12/30/on-being-a-bucket-filler/).

***

“…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: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/02/24/learning-about-a-saint-st-gerasimos-of-the-jordan-commemorated-on-march-4/

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Gleanings from a Book: “In the Candle’s Glow” by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson

The picture book “In the Candle’s Glow” by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson captured my attention from the moment I saw it. The cover illustration radiates peace as the main character stands prayerfully, gently illumined by a row of candle flames dancing like fireflies as she prays. That juxtaposition of peace and joyful motion made me curious, anticipating what I would read within its pages.

When I slipped the book open, I was not disappointed. It starts with flowers and bees, all blowing and growing in the wind. The life of a candle actually begins in that place: in nature, beauty, wholeness, just as God created the world and meant it to be. Bees partake of that sweet beauty and do their own work of using it to create honey and wax to share with their hive. A pleasant-faced nun sings her way into the book, ready to collect both honey and beeswax, and next thing we know there are slender beeswax candles lying patiently in a church’s narthex awaiting their next job. At last the reader meets the young pray-er from the cover, who dances into the book with much enthusiasm. Once she arrives at the church doors, Felicia stills herself, signs herself with the cross, then prayerfully enters. She notices the color and aroma of the beeswax candles, recalling their history for a moment before selecting one and igniting it, initiating it to its next task: carrying prayers. Felicia quietly prays, and as she does, she sees her prayers hovering, illumined by the candle. She watches as a gentle breeze wafts through the window, carrying the smoke from her candle into the heavens. Her prayers ride along to meet the icon of Christ, which watches over Felicia and reminds her that Christ Himself receives her prayers!

Amandine Wanert’s playful illustrations bring to life the swaying flowers, buzzing bees, singing nun, and dancing Felicia in this story. They also illuminate the gentle glow of candles casting light and hope around the interior of an Orthodox church. Readers will relish the peace that they feel as they read their way from the gleeful buzz of sunny fields to the serenity of prayer in church.

Here are some ideas of ways to enhance and extend what we have learned in the book:

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After reading “In the Candle’s Glow,” learn together about bees. Find an excellent source of information about honeybees, including facts about bees and honey, the history of beekeeping, and many links and books that can give you more information here: http://www.buzzaboutbees.net/honey-bee-facts.html

***

There are a host of reasons to love bees and how they help our world! Check out the information and links provided here: http://www.buzzaboutbees.net/Inspiring-Children-To-Love-Bees.html

***

“Visit” a bee farm with this family to learn more about bees and what they do: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCVR1MNgm6A

***

In gratitude for the gifts of honey, pollination, and beeswax that we receive from bees, together as a family investigate what flowers bees like that you could grow at your home. Here is one possible resource: http://thehoneybeeconservancy.org/act-today/plant-a-bee-garden/.  Then plant a little “Bee Gratitude” garden for them to enjoy. You may want to pray the prayer of blessing for the bees found near the end of “In the Candle’s Glow.” (And if you’re feeling especially grateful, you could also put in a beehive!)

***

Did you know that beeswax candles are better for your health than paraffin ones? Pure beeswax candles are not made with petroleum and chemicals (as paraffin ones are) and instead of adding pollutants like artificial scents into the air, they actually purify it while  they burn! Read more about the health benefits of beeswax candles here: http://candles.lovetoknow.com/Beeswax_Candle_Health_Benefits

***

Why do we light candles when we pray? Talk together as a family about that question. http://www.stmattroyalton.org/About-Orthodoxy/Candles-and-Their-Symbolism suggests this reason: “Orthodox faithful light candles before the Icons as a sign of their faith and hope in God’s help that is always sent to all who turn to Him and His Saints with faith and prayers. The candle is also a symbol of our burning and grateful love for God.”

***

Learn more about St. Zosima and St. Savvaty, keepers of bees, here: https://www.facebook.com/Historical.Honeybee.Articles/posts/822731504448014

***

One evening after reading “In the Candle’s Glow,” take a moment to quietly approach your family’s prayer table so that you can think about/experience what Felicia experienced. (Before you do this, be sure to acquire a few beeswax candles for this prayer time: one for each family member, if possible.) As you approach the table, talk softly about what you learned in the book about the flowers, the bees, the beeswax, the nun, and the candles. Then have each family member hold a beeswax candle in their hands and smell it. Think about all of the parts of God’s creation that have happened so that that candle can be in your hand at this moment. All of creation helps us to pray and to worship God! Then light your candle and, just as Felicia did when she lit hers, pray the Jesus Prayer. Quietly watch the flame and think about the words you are saying as you pray the Lord’s Prayer. Then take turns “adding others into” your flame as you pray for your loved ones. When everyone has had all the turns that they need to pray for whoever they want to, talk about how our prayers rise to God. You may want to simultaneously demonstrate how heat from the candle rises, as shown in this simple experiment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cOMushj7w8. Encourage each other to remember that all of creation is here to help us worship God, and that our prayers rise to Him as we offer them in the candles’ glow.

Through the Eyes of a Young Reader: “Queen Abigail the Wise” by Grace Brooks

You may remember the blog post we published about the recently-published Orthodox children’s book, “Queen Abigail the Wise,” by Grace Brooks. Our blog post was published in May 2015. (If you did not get a chance to read the blog before, find it here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/05/25/gleanings-from-a-book-queen-abigail-the-wise-by-grace-brooks/.

We are in the new calendar year, which means that Great Lent is not too far off. The entire story of “Queen Abigail the Wise” takes place during Great Lent. We are revisiting the book in this blog post for two reasons. First and foremost refers to my statement in the first blog post about the book, “I must share this book with my 10-year-old goddaughter.” I did exactly that, and gave my then-10-year-old goddaughter Hope her own copy to read. After she read the book, we got together and talked about it. I thought you may be interested to hear Hope’s perspective on the book, not just mine, so here it is! (Mind you, there are spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book yet, don’t say we didn’t warn you about them!)

When Hope and I got together to discuss this book, I came with a series of questions for her. I tried to think of questions that would help “grownups” have a sense of how relative and enjoyable the book is for a young Orthodox Christian. (As you may have read in the prior blog post, the book is geared to children, but I found it to be uplifting even though I am an adult. I thought it was a great book, and I was pretty sure that Hope would like it. The older I get, though, the more I realize that what I think is nice for a person of a certain age may not necessarily sit as well with them as I thought it would. So I wanted to test this in-my-opinion-wonderful book with Hope to get her opinion of it. Here it is.)

The first question I asked Hope was whether or not she liked “Queen Abigail the Wise.” I was rewarded with the anticipated resounding “Yes!” and a huge smile on her face. Curious, I asked why, and she said, “I liked how [Abigail] had to do something to get something.” and “I like that she figured out that the young priest was the the iconographer by the end of the story.” (Remember, I already warned you that there are spoilers!)

I went on to ask Hope if there were parts of the book that she could relate to, and she said “Yes…” So I asked her which parts of the story she could relate to. She said, “Well, sometimes I get bored in church, too…” and went on to explain that she can understand how that felt to Abigail. She also said that she could relate to Abigail’s feelings at Pascha, when Abigail felt hot and cramped. Hope said that, like Abigail, she’s also not a crowd person and also, she is not hungry when she’s tired — just like Abigail.

Hope named Abigail as her favorite character in the book when asked, because, “I liked how she didn’t want to give up; and she felt bummed about missing church. I do that too sometimes. I also liked how she was willing to work hard and help others because she wanted the icon so badly.”

I couldn’t just ask about a favorite character, so I wondered aloud if Hope had a least favorite character? She said, “Well, at the beginning probably Vanessa because she seems snobby but I changed my opinion at the end. I could also say baby Jacob but he did play an important role.” (Again, spoilers! Well, almost…)

Although “Queen Abigail the Wise” is a chapter book, it contain a few illustrations. I am a visual person and love pictures, so I was delighted with the sketches: I found them charming. But, as mentioned above, I wondered if my personal theory fit with the actual practice and thus, how the illustrations would sit with a young lady of her age. So, I asked Hope if the illustrations added to the story. She said, “Yes, I like to have visuals!” (Like godmother, like goddaughter, I suppose!) But she mentioned that she wished for color, not just blackline illustrations. (I suggested that since the book is her very own, she could go through and color any illustrations that she wanted to, if she wished. A few weeks later, she came to church with her book and showed me that she had colored part of it with colored pencils! It was beautiful.)

I then asked an all-encompassing question about the theme of the book. I wondered what Hope thinks that the author, Grace Brooks, was trying to say with this story. What does Hope think is the book’s message? She give me two excellent answers: “If you set your mind to something and if you work hard you can achieve it… And no matter how much you dislike something or someone, in the end you may find that you actually love them.” Both answers were insightful. Sage words, coming from a 10-year-old.

I asked Hope if she had a favorite part of “Queen Abigail the Wise.” She answered, “The end, when Abigail gets her icon… And the way she describes the icon was pretty, too.”  I asked her if she would recommend this story to others, and she answered,”Yes!” She went on to say, “I would recommend it especially to those new to the Orthodox faith.”

Hope could not think of any part of the story that she did not like. Rather, she liked the book so much that sometimes she stayed up reading it past her bedtime! She was reading it in summer, so she could lie in bed reading until it got too dark outside to read by the snatches of light shining through her window. She got in trouble for doing so (oops!), but she really liked the book, and that’s what she does when she likes a book. (Again, like godmother, like goddaughter!)

So, as I had expected, Hope liked the book. She could relate to the characters and enjoyed learning along with them. Her experience with the story was similar to mine, and I am glad. But you’ll recall that I mentioned two reasons for this blog post, and you may be wondering about the second.

Well, the second reason I am posting about this book right now is all about timing. In a matter of weeks we will be in Great Lent again! You may want to get this book to share with an Orthodox youngster of your own, so that he/she can read it during Great Lent this year! Or perhaps you personally want to follow the related blog posts as the weeks go by: they are very challenging and encouraging for Orthodox Christians of any age! Or maybe you just want to read the book yourself, for your own growth. We’re sharing this blog post now because both Hope and I want to give you plenty of time so that you can do any (or all!) of the above!

Taking one final glimpse at my interview with Hope, my final question for her was whether or not she would be willing to read a sequel when it comes out? She answered with a resounding, “YES!.” So now there are TWO of us eagerly anticipating the second book in the “Every Tuesday Girls Club!” Our guess is that if you and/or your young Orthodox friends get a chance to read “Queen Abigail the Wise,” you will feel the same way. We certainly hope so!

Here are some important links related to the book:

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Purchase “Queen Abigail the Wise” by Grace Brooks, either for yourself or for young friends, here: https://www.amazon.com/Queen-Abigail-Wise-Grace-Brooks/dp/1518600115/  
There is also an ebook available. (But you can’t color in the illustrations of an ebook with colored pencil!)

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Meet all the girls in the “Every Tuesday Girls Club” at the Queen Abigail website: http://queenabigail.com/

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According to this blog post by “Queen Abigail the Wise” author Grace Brooks, http://queenabigail.com/2016/11/27/december-news-with-queen-abigail/, the second book in the series will be available soon! This one is called “Vanessa the Wonderworker!”

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Follow along on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/QueenAbigailtheWise/ for a variety of interesting posts including fresh creations by “Queen Abigail the Wise” author Grace Brooks, new blog posts that she writes, and other interesting things that she finds online and shares which are enjoyable to children and adults alike!

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Consider reading your way through “Queen Abigail the Wise” bit by bit, meditating on these wonderful blog posts by author Grace Brooks. http://queenabigail.com/2016/07/20/reading-through-queen-abigail-with-me/ Perhaps you can do this with a young friend, or even an entire Sunday Church School Class, throughout the course of Great Lent. Consider using these “Abigail” notebooks to document your learning along the way: http://www.cafepress.com/+queen_abigail_the_wise_journal,1908228623!

On Helping Children to Participate in the Divine Liturgy

We attend the Divine Liturgy every Sunday and sometimes during the week as well. Admittedly, there are times when it may seem like a long service to us adults, and it is certainly even more so to our children, for whom time feels different. Depending on the child, their age, and their ability to understand what is going on, the Liturgy can seem a daunting service. Getting beyond merely attending (being present) to truly ATTENDING (paying attention and participating) is not easy for any of us, especially for children.

Some have translated the words ‘Divine Liturgy’ as “the work of the people.” Perhaps a better translation is “the offering of the people for the whole world.” Either way, it is the people who do the work or the offering. The Orthodox Church considers all of its members, including children, to be an important part of the Church’s life. Therefore it follows that even the children are needed to do this work/give this offering. So, if it is important that every member of the parish participate in this work/offering, but if it is a challenge even for adults to be fully present and engaged, what can be done to help the children? This blog post will offer a few suggestions, as well as links full of even more ideas of ways that all adults in a parish can help the children of their parish to participate in the Divine Liturgy. Regardless of our status as adults: whether we are parents, godparents, Sunday Church School teachers, or any other adult in a parish, we share the responsibility for helping to raise the children who are a part of our parish.

Rather than focus on the things children should NOT do during the Divine Liturgy, we will frame this blog post more positively. Here are things that children CAN AND SHOULD do during the Liturgy to participate more fully. (I will include a few personal anecdotes as well, to serve as illustrations for some of the ideas.) Children in our parishes can:

See – The very tiniest among us can see the candles, at the icons, at the clergy, at the choir… (For an idea of how to do so: I have always loved watching my husband during the first moments that he holds our godchildren during a Liturgy when they are still very young. I am in the choir, not with him, but I know what is happening. He whispers, “Where’s Jesus? Can you see Jesus? Can you see Mary, His mother?” and I know that he is pointing their thoughts towards why we are in church: to be in God’s presence and to lift our hearts and minds towards Him.) Young preschoolers can look for items in the church such as crosses, animals, the color of Jesus’ robe, etc. Older preschoolers can count how many of those items they see, how many candles are burning in front of Jesus’ icon today, etc. Young elementary students can look for the icon of St. John the Forerunner, the Evangelist whose Gospel we hear during the service, what’s in the window by the Theotokos in the icon of the Annunciation, etc. The list of things to look for is limitless. It takes a little adult pre-planning to think of things for the children to look for, as well as placement in the sanctuary that allows the children to be able to see, but throughout the Liturgy, the children’s attention can be directed to look for things in the icons or in the service itself.

Kiss – Even very tiny children can show their love for God and their veneration of the saints by kissing the icons, the Gospel book, the cross, the priest’s hand, and even their fellow parishioners. (When our baby goddaughter and I arrive at the icon of Christ after communion, I whisper, “Let’s kiss the icon of Jesus. We love you, Jesus! Thank you for giving us your Body and Blood so we can live more like you this week!” and then I venerate the icon. She has yet to kiss the icon, but I know that she will, in time. And in the meantime, she looks intently in His eyes while we have that quiet moment together. We have an older goddaughter who has taken a while to be willing to do any of this kissing, but she has begun to do so. She just needed some time and to be willing to do this on her own. That’s okay!) Be sure to include the children around you in the Kiss of Peace, as well. Encourage your own children to make peace with their siblings before church; or during the Kiss of Peace if need be.

Talk – Although there are many opportunities to be silent, with a little practice beforehand, children can (and should!) talk during the service! There are plenty of opportunities to talk, but we must help them learn when those opportunities are, and what they should say during those times in the Divine Liturgy. With a cue until they get the hang of it, very young children can begin with the “Amens” during the Anaphora. Then, as they learn the following, they can also join in for (probably in this order): the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the communion prayers, etc. (They even get to SHOUT in church on the Sunday of Orthodoxy! When that Sunday approaches, we must practice, “This is the faith…” with our children ahead of time so they know what to say! My children loved that part of Sunday of Orthodoxy when they were younger. Actually, they still do, even though they are in their late teens!)

Sing – Children can sing “Lord, have mercy!” from a fairly early age. They can learn other responses to the prayers and refrains to the antiphons as well. They can learn to sing the troparia, the kontakion, the Trisagion Hymn, the Cherubic Hymn, the list goes on and on throughout the service. (A favorite song at our parish is “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord,” near the end of the service. The choir director’s granddaughter’s face has always lit up when we arrive at that song, even when she was very small. It is such a delight to watch her as she joyfully sings along!) As with many of the other suggestions for Liturgy participation, this one requires a little work together ahead of time. Gather a collection of CDs of the Church’s music at home, especially ones that use some of the same tunes that your church sings during the Liturgy. Play the CDs often so you can listen and sing together. Listening at home too, makes it much easier for the children to participate during the Divine Liturgy. Besides this additional exposure at home, a key to having the children sing along during the Liturgy is for them to hear other parishioners also singing along. Children who are surrounded by adults who sing along tend to join in as they are able. (Although, “a little child shall lead them” also applies at times: our daughter jumped into singing in the choir before I got up the courage to, and she has been blessing our parish with her voice, ever since! So perhaps it depends on the child…)

Hold – Children can hold service books, either a child’s version (our older goddaughter has worked her way through several versions, in increasing difficulty level, as she has grown) or the regular service book (when they’re old enough to read it – that same goddaughter has a little pocket prayer book containing the Liturgy that she now uses to follow along). Children can also hold and pass the offering plate. Some young boys like to hold a pretend censor and “help” Father or the deacons with the censing. Older children (and adults like me who need it to help them focus!) may want to hold a prayer rope and pray the Jesus Prayer during the Liturgy.


Stand – While in their parents’ arms, and then on their own once they know how to balance on their feet, children can learn to stand reverently during the Epistle, the Gospel, and the Great Entrance. As they get older, they can stand longer and longer until they are able to stand for the entire Liturgy (or at least all of the times that your tradition suggests for standing). (Our son challenged himself at a young age to stand for the whole service. His goal was to be an altar server – which can happen at age 7 in our parish – and he knew he’d have to be able to stand the whole service once he got to do that, so he started practicing when he was 5 or 6. Now that he’s a senior altar server, he is reaping the benefits of having learned to stand so long ago. Both of our children have joked about how tired their schoolmates get, standing during school concerts, etc., because “We’re Orthodox! We stand for hours every Sunday!” so they are quite accustomed to being on their feet. But they had to learn to stand for that long; and to choose to do it.)

Hear – From an early age, children can listen to more and more of the service. The Epistle, the Gospel, the homily, the music, the prayers… the list can grow a bit every year until they are listening to the entire Liturgy. Younger children may need to be challenged quietly during the Epistle/Gospel/homily, “Listen for (a word you anticipate will be said multiple times, like ‘Our Lord’) and smile at me or gently squeeze my hand each time you hear Father say it.” Older children can listen for a theme during the scripture readings. (For example, my 10-year-old goddaughter and I listened for “healing” in all of the readings during this year’s Holy Unction service, and quietly pointed it out to each other when we found/heard it.) Many children can listen for “one thing that you want to remember from Father’s homily today” that adults can ask them about during Coffee Hour or on the ride home from church. It can also be helpful to quietly whisper directions that help you both focus better during the Liturgy. (For example, “Listen! Jesus is speaking to us right now, through Father!” just before the priest says, “Take, eat: This is my Body, which is broken for you, for the remission of sins…”)

Move – There are even opportunities for movement during the Divine Liturgy! Once again, it takes a little pre-teaching, but even young children are able to make the sign of the cross, bow their heads unto the Lord, kneel if/when applicable, reply to Father’s bow with one of their own, etc. We can help the youngest ones to do so, taking their baby fist in our hand to make the sign of the cross over their body, etc. The older ones, with a little preparation ahead of time, can participate fully when the time comes in the service without us physically helping them as much, because they have practiced and they know what to do. During the lenten season, children can also do prostrations! (One of my favorite memories of Great Lent was when my now-elementary-school-aged godson was about 3. He came to some of the lenten services with his parents, and I took great delight in watching him flop himself down wholeheartedly and then joyfully pop right back up again during the prostrations in the Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian. He was willingly offering his entire self in praise to God, and I can only imagine that God was infinitely more tickled than I was to see that enthusiastic worship!)

Children love to participate. They long to feel a part of things. They want to contribute to the world around them. Here are a few ways that we adults can help the children in our homes/Sunday Church School classes/parish to do so during the Divine Liturgy.

These ideas are admittedly only a scratch on the surface of ways children can participate in the Divine Liturgy. What ideas do you have? Please comment below and help the rest of this community to better bless and assist the children in their parish. May we all work together to attend the Divine Liturgy; and, as we do so, may we all truly ATTEND, regardless of our age! Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory be, forever!

Here are a few resources with even more ideas of ways to help your children participate in the Divine Liturgy:

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Fr. Paul Gassios of St. George Orthodox Cathedral in Rossford, Ohio, offers this excellent article about the importance of having children participating in the Divine Liturgy. The article offers suggested guidelines for how often they should attend, where to sit when attending with children, when they can participate in the fasting, and more. He says, “When I hear the ‘holy noise’ of children in Church it makes me very happy because it tells me the parish has a future. We should be worried when we no longer hear that noise!” Read his article here:

http://www.stgeorgerossford.org/parish-life-and-ministries/reflections/4-reflections-sub/109-children-and-the-divine-liturgy

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Purchase a Divine Liturgy Book for Young Children and personalize it with photos from your own parish. This is a great book for your own children to use to familiarize themselves with the Liturgy. It would also make a great gift to godchildren, a Sunday Church School class, or other children in the parish! https://www.createspace.com/4773892

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“Giving children other things [ie: toys] to do during church teaches them that the Liturgy is for adults only and that is not what we want to be teaching our children.” Find this quote in context, part of one of a list of 10 things to do to interest your children in the Divine Liturgy, when you read this blog: http://www.freshandfaithful.com/?p=113.

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“Talk to your child about Church as often as you can. Liken things to Church. Make Church sound fun and exciting. For kids, it can be fun and exciting. [My son] loves Church because there is SO MUCH to look at, listen to, and do. Keep Church in the forefront of their minds.” This is one of many tips from Presbytera Marilisse I. Mars, in her blog http://journeytoorthodoxy.com/2013/01/time-to-go-to-church-a-time-to-fear-and-dread/.

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“Above all, pray for your children to grow in their love for Christ and His Church. No amount of practical advice can substitute for the work of God’s Spirit in the lives of your children. There is no magic formula for producing children who passionately worship the Lord. God has called us to train our children and set a godly example before them, but at the end of the day we must all lay our children at the foot of the cross and call upon our gracious God to be true to His promises and finish the work He has begun in the hearts of our children.” This is only one of the many helpful and practical tips for parents and all adults in a parish, to help them help children to join in during the Divine Liturgy. This entire article is a must-read for any Orthodox Christian adult who wants to fulfill their role with the children in their parish, whether it is parenting, godparenting, being a positive role model, or teaching Sunday Church School: http://www.stlukeorthodox.com/html/parishinfo/helpchildrenworship.cfm

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“Teaching a child to be an Orthodox Christian — and what that means every day — takes a huge commitment and constant effort on the part of the parents and godparents. Here are some of the things we learned the hard way, or were shown to us by people much wiser…” This is at the beginning of a list of ages/stages of helping children to participate in the Divine Liturgy, written by Nichola T. Krouse. Read her tried-and-true ideas here: http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/inchurch/lazyparent.htm

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Orthodox Christian Sunday Church School teachers can also help to influence children’s participation in the Divine Liturgy. “Classroom time should be set aside for questions and answers about that day’s worship.” Read more about this, as well as other ideas and suggestions here: http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/resources/religiousedbasics/reledbasicsarticles/reledbasicsliveliturgy

 

Time for House Blessings

Theophany has passed for those of us following the new calendar. The waters have been blessed. Our souls have been cleansed and refreshed by the drinking/sprinkling thereof. And now it’s time! Time to clean our house. Literally.

Why should we clean our home at this time of year? We want to prepare for the special event that will happen soon within our walls: our house blessing! The traditional “after Theophany” visit from the parish priest to bless each home with holy water has been part of Orthodox Christian practice for centuries. We work to prepare our homes for this blessing, just as we work to prepare our hearts for other blessings (like communion) that we receive from God. While the house blessing is not a sacrament, it is an important part of helping us to live the Faith at home, and so we need to take time to prepare accordingly!

The house blessing is a special time for each family. It is unique because of the prayers requesting God’s sanctification of our home, and also because of the personal time that it offers with our parish priest. Every member of the family can participate (and even help!) with the house blessing, and each person will benefit from it.

So, let us do all that we can to prepare our home, our family, and our hearts for our house blessing! And then, let us participate with joy. We will be the better for it.

Here is a useful printable that can help us teach our children about Theophany and house blessings. It also provides a checklist that we can go over together to be sure that we have everything ready! http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/Antiochian_Theophany.pdf

Here are a few links that may be helpful as you teach your children about and prepare for your house blessing:

The house blessing service can be found in its entirety here: http://www.goarch.org/chapel/liturgical_texts/home_bless

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“If the priest comes to bless the home when the children are present, they have the opportunity to see the parish priest in a different and personal situation. If the priest permits, they can lead the way through the house, or hold a candle. They can show him their rooms or pets or favorite toys. They receive a blessing with water. For children, the house blessing shows the connection of the Church to the home.” ~ Phillys Onest, from http://www.antiochian.org/content/why-do-we-have-our-homes-blessed  (used by permission)

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“…the entire home is blessed, with the family walking with the priest holding candles and the Theophany icon while the Theophany Troparion is sung over and over:

Tone 1:  When Thou, wast baptized in the Jordan, O Lord, / the worship of the Trinity was made manifest; / for the voice of the Father bare witness to Thee, / calling Thee His beloved Son. /And the Spirit in the form of a dove / confirmed the certainty of the word. / O Christ our God, Who hast appeared  / and hast enlightened the world, glory be to Thee.

It is a very good idea for the family to sing this troparion, and know it by heart. Otherwise, of the priest has many houses to bless, his voice will get tired!” ~ from http://www.orthodox.net/10things/theophany-house-blessings.html

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“The blessing of homes by these holy waters maintains the spiritual association between the ‘family church’ and the parish, as well as again providing for the sharing of God’s spiritual gifts… This annual blessing…  should not be overlooked, for it is in this way that the grace of God is extended to individual dwellings.” (Marriage and the Christian Home, http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/xc_home.aspx.)

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“There are few things more vital to our lives than our homes. In our homes we pray, we work, we talk to others, we order our lives, we work out our marriages, etc. What more important place to reclaim for the Kingdom of God – or is it better to continue living in a place which is occupied by the enemy. For the most effective working out of our salvation, we must drive the enemy out of our homes, and keep him at bay by our prayers, our righteous life, and the annual sprinkling by Holy Water at Theophany.” ~ from http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/2010/01/blessing-of-homes.html

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“…By sanctifying our home, we extend the grace of God to the neighbors.” ~ from an Indonesian Orthodox house blessing video found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJm2S5qeDns
Consider showing this to your children and talking about how our brothers and sisters around the world worship as we do. Look and listen for things that are the same from your house blessing!