Category Archives: Faith

On an Intentional Summer Plan

The school year is wrapping up in North America. For many of us with school-aged children, this means our schedules will change because there is no school or we take a break from homeschooling. This is a good time for us to think ahead a bit, so that we are prepared for this change. This season with its different schedule offers us a great opportunity to further nurture our children’s faith, grow their love for family and neighbors, and even sneak in a little learning (shhh!) along the way. We don’t want to pass that up, do we?!?

It is most likely that all of us have great intentions for summer. Unfortunately, intentions alone do not reach goals. Making those intentions bear fruit requires planning and commitment. So, in order to best take advantage of this chance we’re being given, let us make a plan and commit to act on it! Our plan does not have to be grandiose: even a simple plan will help us head in the intended direction and will be very successful if we carry it out.

So, the question is this: what is our goal for this summer? Do we want to nurture our children’s faith? Do we want to help them better love others, building our family relationships and strengthening their friendships outside of the family? Do we want them to keep learning? It is very likely that we would like all of these things to happen! To keep it simple, let us select one area to commit to nurturing this summer. (Of course, we can select as many summer goals as we wish, but it would be better for us to select one and do it well than to try to attain all of them and find ourselves meeting none of them or quitting because we are overwhelmed!)

Once we have selected our intended goal for the summer, let us take a little time to consider how we can make it happen. We should brainstorm specific goals for that area that we are committed to improving, talk with our spouse (and our spiritual father, depending on what the goal is!) about it, research ideas of ways our family can make it happen, etc. Then, let us schedule steps in that direction, and write them into the family’s summer plans. These steps can be specific activities that will help us reach this goal or a simple checkup reminders along the way that are placed in our schedule to keep the goal fresh in our minds throughout the summer. The most important step of this process of attaining our family’s summer goal is this: we must do these things that we’ve planned that will help us reach our goal! At the end of the summer, our family should take a little time – even just a few minutes – to talk about the goal and how we succeeded in pursuing/attaining it this summer. We can review the things we did and learned, and then talk about how to continue applying the learning while still growing in this area as the next school year begins.

Each of us knows what our family needs, and in what ways we all need to grow this summer. It falls to us parents to make a plan and pursue it with our children. May God grant us wisdom, creativity, commitment, growth, and great joy as we press on together as a family to meet our family’s summer goal!

What is your goal for your family this summer? Share it below, and read on for links that you may find helpful as you make your plans!

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Our favorite find as we prepared for this post? This list of Orthodox things for kids to do over summer! Find a variety of suggested ideas that can work across many goals, here: http://www.theorthodoxchildrenspress.com/uncategorized/30-orthodox-things-to-do-this-summer/

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Our own personal mindset can make or break our work towards the family goal for the summer. Let’s choose to SAVOR this time with our kids, as suggested in this blog post (which also offers some ideas of ways to meet our family’s goal!):

https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/savoring-summer-time-with-our-children/

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A great way to help nurture our children’s faith is to make it possible for them to attend Church camp. Check out this list to find one in your area if you have not already done so, and then send them to camp! http://orthodoxscouter.blogspot.com/2017/05/how-to-find-orthodox-summer-camps-for.html

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“How can we continue on our journey with Christ during the summer months?  Try implementing some of the ideas below and use them for inspiration in finding additional ways to keep your family close to Christ!” Read those ideas here:

http://www.antiochian.org/christianeducation/takethesummerchallenge

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One way we can work towards strengthening the relationships in our family by nurturing fun memories is through playing together. Check out the recommendations we offered in this blog if you need some fresh ideas: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/go-out-and-play-ideas-for-summertime-outdoor-fun/

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This blog post is geared towards home schooling parents, but the concept is applicable to everyone, especially if our family summer goal is to better love our neighbors. It offers some ideas of ways to help our children learn how to think beyond themselves and our family and to find ways to bless other people. Read more here: http://thecharactercorner.com/teaching-our-kids-to-be-a-blessing-to-others/

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One of the best things we can do with/for our children over summer to help them to keep learning is to read with them! Need ideas? Here are a few suggestions:

Picture books offer art AND a story line. Consider challenging yourselves to read as many of the best picture books as you can, this summer! Here’s the Caldecott list* (the Caldecott Medal is offered by the American Library Association to the “best picture book” written each year): http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/caldecottmedal/caldecotthonors/caldecottmedal

 

Historical fiction offers insights into times gone by. Here are one person’s top 45 historical fiction books for middle-years kids: http://www.whatdowedoallday.com/historical-fiction-books-for-kids/

 

For fantastic stories, look no farther than the Newbery Medal list. The American Library Association awards the John Newbery Medal to the “best chapter book” written each year. Find new favorites (and/or revisit old ones) from this list*: http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/newberymedal/newberyhonors/newberymedal

 

*In both of these cases, be sure to check out the honor books as well: some years there are many, many amazing books written/illustrated. The “honor” books listed are equally fantastic as the “winners!”

 

On Living Icons

The Orthodox Christian Faith is enriched by icons. We surrounded ourselves with these prayerfully-written images of Christ, the Theotokos, and the saints. Our churches are full of icons, as are our homes. This is as it should be. In our modern self-focused culture, we need visual reminders of God’s work in and through the saints! These reminders in the form of icons challenge us to be strong and live a life accordingly faithful.

There are other icons that enrich our Faith as well. God has surrounded us with His hand-written images of Christ in the form of every person around us. Our churches are full of them, as are our homes. But He has not limited His handwritten icons to the Church. They are all around us. If you are like me, occasionally you may need a reminder that everyone – EVERYONE – is an icon of Christ, written by God Himself, in His image. May this short post remind us of that truth. So, that sweet lady at Church? Yes, she is an icon of Christ. The person who just cut me off when driving? An icon. The persistent child interrupting my phone conversation? An icon. That person who I struggle to love? An icon. The famous person everyone gossips about? An icon. Those people who live far away and very differently from me? They, too, are an icon. My spouse? Also an icon, written in the image of (and by the Hand of) God.


Whether or not we recognize His artistry, God has written (and is writing) each and every person. Therefore, we must remember that He is at work in and through them, then respond with the love and respect that we offer any other icon reflecting His image. When we choose to see His work in each person, we will be challenged by them to be strong and live our Christian life faithfully!  

We must be careful to note that this recognition of God’s work in writing the living icons around us must not be limited to noting it in other people. In truth, we ourselves are living icons, and should also be enriching the Church and our world. In order to be the most reflective image of Him that we can be, we need to cooperate with Him as he works in and through us. As we do so, He will strengthen us and give us what we need to live the faithful Christian life befitting an icon.

May God help us all to live and love His image in every person!

 

Here are some resources that can help us to be more aware of the icons of Christ around us; and challenge ourselves to be the best icons of Christ that we can:

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“We get the chance to venerate these living, breathing icons every day—in our homes, at work or school, as well as at church. We just have to get in the habit of seeing them. If we were to treat the living icons around us the way we treat the painted icons in our churches, what would that look like?” ~ from Donna Farley’s article, “Seeing Icons and Being Icons,” http://myocn.net/seeing-icons-icons/

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“How we treat others is how we treat the Lord. Every person is a living icon, and how we treat them reveals the true nature of our relationship with Jesus Christ.” ~ from Fr. Philip LeMaster’s homily “How We Treat the Living Icons of Christ.” Read the entire homily here: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/easternchristianinsights/2016/03/05/780/

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“Every one of us is in the image of God, and every one of us is like a damaged icon. But if we were given an icon damaged by time, damaged by circumstances, or desecrated by human hatred, we would treat it with reverence, with tenderness, with broken-heartedness. We would not pay attention primarily to the fact that it is damaged, but to the tragedy of its being damaged. We would concentrate on what is left of its beauty, and not on what is lost of its beauty. And this is what we must learn to do with regard to each person as an individual, but also – and this is not always as easy – with regard to groups of people, whether it be a parish or a denomination, or a nation. We must learn to look, and look until we have seen the underlying beauty of this group of people. Only then can we even begin to do something to call out all the beauty that is there. Listen to other people, and whenever you discern something which sounds true, which is a revelation of harmony and beauty, emphasize it and help it to flower. Strengthen it and encourage it to live.” – Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

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“Just as people who have no faith are yet drawn to the beauty of icons, so we must remember that unbelievers will be drawn to the beauty of our spiritual lives, should we embark on this process of restoring the image and likeness of God in each of us. Spiritual beauty is manifested in the virtues brought forth through us by the Holy Spirit. A peaceful heart and mind firmly established upon total Faith in God, is magnificent and glorious to behold. Through our spiritual path, we fulfill our iconic calling, manifesting the beauty of God in our persons. By bringing God’s beauty and light into the world, we offer hope to a world filled with ugliness and darkness.” ~ Read more of Bishop JOSEPH’s address “On the Holy Icons” here: http://www.antiochian.org/holy-icons

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Need an overhaul on your perspective of yourself (and others), the icon(s) of Christ? Here’s a 7 minute sermon from Fr. Ted Paraskevopoulos that will do just that: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/isermon/orthodox_anthropology

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What does it mean for a father to be the living icon of Christ? Read one dad’s take on the concept in this blog post: http://illumination-learning.com/main/2017/03/23/dad-a-living-icon-of-christ/

 

On Miracles That God Performs Through Icons

Icons are windows to heaven. We have them in our churches, we have them in our homes, and perhaps in our car/locker/workspace/elsewhere as well. They are in these places as visual reminders of Truth. Icons remind us of the power of God at work, either through the written images of Christ Himself or of those gone before us who have followed Him completely and became saints. They help us to better understand the scriptures and to better connect with the person/people written on them. Icons draw us to God by virtue of their beauty, the stories of faithfulness they represent, the Scriptures they unveil. It is a miracle that something so simple as a prayerfully-written icon can do so much to help us on our journey toward Him.

Occasionally, God chooses to move beyond that sense of “being drawn,” and to work other miracles through them. The purpose of this blog post is to help each of us to learn about some of the icons He is using in this way (or has recently used in this way), and to read the stories of miracles wrought through them. It is our hope that this post will be encouraging and help each of us to be aware of how God is at work through icons. (These stories will also encourage our children when we share the stories with them. Children are naturally full of wonder, and will benefit from knowing these amazing ways in which God is at work through holy icons. So, please share the stories that your children will benefit from hearing so they can be encouraged, as well!)

Here are a few examples of miracle-working icons and their stories, as well as information related to miracle-working icons:

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What would you do if some of the icons in your prayer corner miraculously began streaming myrrh? Read this account by Subdeacon Nectarios himself, of what happened in his home. In the account, you’ll read about two streaming icons (each with different-smelling myrrh), a cat, a “doubting Thomas” who ends up with a mouthful of “proof,” and a few of the miracles that the miraculous myrrh have wrought. Glory to God! http://www.orthodoxhawaii.org/icons.html

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The Kardiotissa Icon of the Mother of God, at St. George Orthodox Church in Taylor, Pennsylvania, has been exuding myrrh ever since it was anointed with the myrrh of the Hawaiian Iveron icon in October of 2011. Many, many lives have been changed as a result. Read some of the miracles that have happened, as accounted in this homily: http://www.schwebster.org/sermons/2014-sermons/the-miracles-and-wonders-of-god-the-crying-icon-of-taylor-pa

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“Over the past ten years there have been many miracles; some I’ve heard about and some I haven’t. There have been many physical healings, external, and there have also been many spiritual, inner healings. Through this Icon many of the faithful have experienced radical transformations in their lives. It’s as if people become liberated from the ‘old man’ and ardently strive towards God.  When the Icon is present in various churches, monasteries and homes, one senses a renewal of love for the Mother of God; almost immediately many people approach for confession, spiritually reborn through a feeling of repentance.  I’d like to say that the Mother of God helps our believers sense their sinfulness before Her Son, Jesus Christ.”

Read this and more of the story and miracles of the copy of the Iveron icon of the Mother of God (the same one whose copy was sent to Hawaii and began myrrh streaming there, and when that one in turn visited the Kardiotissa icon in Pennsylvania it began exuding myrrh as well), which was brought to Canada from Mt. Athos by a Chilean convert to Orthodoxy here:  http://www.roca.org/OA/120/120k.htm

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“One can go on for a very long time listing the different holy Icons of the Ever-Virgin Mary and Theotokos and all the wonderful countless miracles of our Panagia. It is, however, important for all Orthodox Christian believers to always seek the holy intercessions of the Mother of God and to turn to Her for aid, healing, comfort and salvation.” Read some of the miracles in this article: http://saintandrewgoc.org/home/2014/8/25/the-miraculous-icon-of-panagia-portraitissa-the-keeper-of-th.html. Then, spend some time praying and asking the Theotokos to pray for you and your loved ones – and the whole world!

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Watch this 8-minute video that shows miracle after miracle, mostly related to icons, which God has granted through His Holy Orthodox Church. Set to parts of the Vespers service chanted by Eikona, this video could be a wonder-filled way to end a day! (We recommend that you watch it before showing it to your children, so you know what they will see and can be prepared to answer related questions.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-AOO903CZA

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Throughout history, icons of the Mother of God have worked miracles. This article shares the commemoration days of many icons of the Theotokos, along with some of the stories of miracles attributed to those icons, set throughout history. These stories are not as recent as some of the above, but they are still miracles and well worth learning about! To read about an icon of the Theotokos and/or a miracle attributed to the icon, click on the month, then which of the days of that month you’d like to read about: https://oca.org/saints/icons-mother-of-god

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“Venerating a miracle is also a way of acknowledging the importance of its context. A weeping icon is amazing, but it’s obviously not meant to distract attention away from the liturgical, sacramental, and doctrinal life of the Church. If anything, a miracle should amplify the importance of Church practices and teaching, for the God who causes the miracle is also the God who established these as markers of his ‘new and everlasting covenant’ with mankind.” Read more about responding to miracles wrought through icons in this article:  http://myocn.net/miracle-greece-weeping-icon-mean/

Gleanings from a Book: “Icon” by Georgia Briggs

I did not want this book to end. That is the first time in a long time that I’ve read a book and felt that way. “Icon” by Georgia Briggs may be aimed at young adults, but it is no ordinary young-adult-aimed fiction book, and is a great read for adults as well.

The story line in this book is believable, though fictional, and I found it hard to put the book down because of both the story line and the Orthodox insights throughout the book. “Icon” is the moving story of a young Orthodox Christian girl in a era similar to our own, except that in this dystopian tale (set in 0000 ET, “Era of Tolerance,” with flashbacks to the Pascha before ET began), it is suddenly no longer legal to be a Christian, most especially an Orthodox one. “Icon” is a story of loss, finding, miracles, death, light, and restoration, written so believably that the reader thinks “this could really happen!” It is a gripping story of Faith put to the test.

This book challenges its readers to think about their own Faith. What if all that we currently do and take for granted with regard to our Faith were suddenly illegal and we were being watched at every turn? What if our family members died/disappeared simply because of their Faith? What if we were left alone and had to move to new surroundings and change even our very name to one unassociated with our Faith? And what if all of this happened to us at the tender age of 12? My guess is that many of us would not react with the same endurance that Euphrosyne does. (But neither is this one of those books that glosses everything over. Euphrosyne definitely struggles with doubt and temptation all along the way, and the reader struggles along with her, knowing what she ought to do, but also understanding the reality of what will happen if she stands strong for her Faith!) The book is written so realistically that one almost feels the need to keep an eye out for “traps” in his/her own life after reading it.

After reading Euphrosyne’s struggles and then thinking through the questions that those struggles point to, the reader is left with the determination to take nothing about the Faith for granted. Readers will continue to realize the blessing that icons are in their life, whether the human-written ones or the icons that are still wearing the flesh that God Himself wrote. When a reader makes the sign of the cross, they will ponder the “streaks of light” that Euphrosyne could “see” traced over her Orthodox friends’ chests near the end of the book. The Divine Liturgy will not be the “same old” liturgy so easily taken for granted… I could go on and on (at the risk of divulging too much of the story) with ways that the reader will be challenged to ponder their faith. Suffice it to say that this book makes its readers really think about their Faith and then value it like never before.

I would encourage families of middle-grade-years or older children to get their hands on this book as soon as you can. Parents should read it first (it won’t take you too long: as I mentioned before, it is hard to put down!), in order to have a grasp on what is coming, and to best know which of your children would benefit most from reading it next. Or, if you can, after reading it yourself, read the book aloud together as a family (if everyone in your family could handle it – but only you will know that). Regardless of how you read this book, be sure to talk together about it after you read. This book can help to strengthen your family’s Faith when you read and discuss it!
Chances are, when you finish this read, you will hope along with me that author Georgia Briggs will write again, and soon!

Purchase your own copy of “Icon” here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/icon-a-novel/

Learn more about author Georgia Briggs here: https://georgiabriggsauthor.wordpress.com/

Here are some quotes from different parts of “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, along with suggestions of what your family could discuss at that part of the book. (With apologies for spoilers, which are difficult to avoid with this book!) We hope that these selections can help to give you an idea of the types of discussions that your family can have while reading this book:
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“My hands shake as I reach to pick the icon [of St. Nicholas] up. It’s small and light in my hands. I turn it sideways. It’s only about a quarter of an inch thick, but the bullet hasn’t gone all the way through… I was holding it in front of me when he fired the gun… It must’ve stopped the bullet, and the force blew it through my hands and knocked me over… I sit back down on the ground and gaze at the icon. St. Nicholas looks so calm. The bullet in his chest bothers me. I start to pick at it with my fingernails, trying to pry it loose… It’s wedged in tightly, but after a few minutes I manage to work it out. A thin trickle of blood runs from the hole in the saint’s chest.” ~ “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, pp. 30-31

This experience of Euphrosyne’s offers your family the opportunity to discuss miracles wrought by icons. What miracles do you know of? Take time to research and learn about more. God is at work through His saints, and sometimes even through their icons!
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“All this is so fake, I think, looking around at the plastic plants and uncomfortable chairs. Everything about this world is fake and watered down—the holidays, the people, the ‘just accept everybody’ thing that Dr. Snead keeps telling me. How do they all live in this place and not go crazy? My grandparents, Miss Linda, the other kids in school. Do they really believe this is all there is?

Maybe I know better because of what I’ve been through. Or maybe I’m just crazy and trying to make it all mean something.” ~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, p. 74

Take some time to discuss Euphrosyne’s thoughts on her world. What do you think of what she thinks? Have you ever thought something similar about your own world? How does the world – even as it is right now – compare to the Heavenly Kingdom, God’s kingdom?

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“No one’s watching me.

I dance around a little, twirling and leaping, the ice squeaking under my feet. Soon my socks are wet and I’m breathing hard, but I don’t care. I twirl again and slip and fall. I lie back and make a snow angel…

…I look up at the dark sky without meaning to, like I’m going to see God up there or something.

No God in sight, but a few stars blink back at me.

For some reason it’s easier to believe in God when you’re standing alone in the snow on a cold morning and looking at the stars.” ~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, p. 77

Ask your family why they think the author put a snow scene into this story (which is set in Alabama). What could it symbolize? How does the snow purify or refresh Euphrosyne? What do you think of the last statement? Have you ever had a similar experience? When?
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“When I notice the other priest in the altar, I can’t remember whether he’s been there all along and I just wasn’t paying attention. He’s helping Father Innocent like a deacon or one of the altar boys, but he’s about a foot taller than Father Innocent and he seems… different. Brighter, or more colorful or something. I wish I could get a glimpse of his face. He’s robed in red, not gold like the others, and he has a white stole with blue crosses draped around his neck and over one shoulder.

…Now that I look around, though, there are strange people in the congregation too. More people than were here when liturgy started. …Am I going crazy? Does nobody else see this?

…Everything around me is getting greyer and greyer. Everything except the icons and the strangers. I can see them better now. They seem to fill every corner of the room. They’re all different ages, some young, some old, their faces shining. Some wear crowns, many hold crosses in their hands. Some are dressed in rags, but they’re so beautiful that the rags seem beautiful too.” ~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, pp. 154-155

After reading this passage, talk together about who you think Euphrosyne is seeing in this part of the story. Discuss the reality of the saints’ and angels’ presence in the Divine Liturgy every time we celebrate it together. How does it make you feel? Does it make you want to change anything about the way in which you attend the Divine Liturgy? If so, what?

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“‘I’m Shamar,’ he says, ‘I’m your guardian angel.’

Right away I remember the icon that used to hang between my bed and Kat’s, of the curly-haired angel in blue robes and a red cloak, the one carrying a sword.

‘So you’ve been here all along?’ I ask.

Shamar nods. ‘Ever since you were baptized.’

‘You were old enough to be a guardian angel then?’ He can’t be more than seventeen or eighteen years old.

‘I’m a lot older than I look,’ he says with a smile.

‘Oh.’ It’s weird to think he’s been watching me my whole life. I think of all the stupid things I’ve done, all the times I was mean to Kat or whined to Mom and Dad. It’s kind of embarrassing.” ~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, p. 189

Talk together as a family about guardian angels. How long has each member of your family’s guardian angel been guarding him/her? Encourage each other to think about the fact that your angel is with you always and sees what you do, while also protecting you. Take a moment to pray the prayer to your guardian angel, thanking them for their protection and love. Find the prayer here: http://www.orthodoxprayer.org/OtherPrayers.html

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“When I get close, I realize I can see more than just the stuff on the outside. I can see her soul too. And it makes me sad. Its silver glow has dark scars across it. There’s a jagged rip over her heart and another on her right hand, the hand she’s holding over her face as she cries. The one across her heart looks old, but the one on her hand is fresh. I hover beside her, trying to touch her.

‘Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy.’ she whispers over and over again. She makes the sign of the cross, and her fingers leave a trail of light that lingers for a moment before disappearing.”  ~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, p. 195

Talk together about this passage after reading it. Why do you think her soul glows? Where did the scars come from? Why do her fingers leave a trail of light when she crosses herself? How does this make you think differently about your own soul and your own prayers?

 

Gleanings from a Book: “The Suitcase” by Jane G. Meyer

Orthodox Christian author Jane G. Meyer has written a new picture book called “The Suitcase: a Story about Giving.” The book was illustrated by Chiara Pasqualotto. It is the story of Thomas, a boy who may be autistic but does not let his challenges keep him from being an active participant – even a leader – in entering the Kingdom of God while bringing others with him. Any reader, regardless of age, will be challenged to find ways to make God’s Kingdom happen in the world around them after meeting Thomas through this book.

Here is a brief summary and review of the book:

Thomas is like clockwork. He is so precise with his preferred activities that you can almost predict what he will do each day. So, when he randomly shows up at the family supper table one night with a suitcase, declaring that he intends to leave for the Kingdom of Heaven, it catches everyone’s attention, for this is far from his routine! With his family’s love and support, Thomas shares his plan, showing his family (and the reader) each item that he has packed and explaining why he has packed it. As he does so, Thomas unknowingly reveals how carefully he has been paying attention to teachings about the Faith, and unveils his commitment to following Christ, even though it means stepping away from his beloved routines.

The colorful watercolor illustrations in this picture book are gently realistic. They invite the reader to feel comfortable in Thomas’ home and with his family. There is just enough detail to illustrate the story in an orderly manner, just as Thomas likes his world to be organized. (There is also just enough missing in each illustration to leave room for the reader’s imagination, inciting curiosity.)

“The Suitcase” is full of scriptural references. The reader can’t help but try to make connections: What was Thomas thinking about when he packed this item? Where did he hear about that one? Where can I learn more about it?!? Parents and teachers will find in “The Suitcase” more than just a lovely story. They will find in it an opportunity to delve into the scriptures with their children, to ensure that they know the source of each of the contents in Thomas’ wonderful suitcase.

Readers of all ages will be challenged to think beyond their own routines, consider what they should be “packing” in their own suitcase, and then reach out into the Kingdom of Heaven by finding ways to love and serve all those around them. The resource page at the end offers an excellent place to begin!

“The Suitcase” will be a welcome addition to any Orthodox Christian family’s library. It offers a sweet story as well as many opportunities to learn from the scriptures. Thomas’ preferences of routine and order can give families the opportunity to discuss autism and the challenges that people with autism face (especially if the family does not have a family member or friend living with autism). The story also gives its readers a chance to learn from Thomas’ determination to step outside of his comfort zone, and makes each reader think about how to do likewise in order to attain (and extend) the Kingdom of God in his/her own life!

Note: the author of this review was given a reading copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. Visit http://www.paracletepress.com/Products/7763/the-suitcase.aspx to order your own copy of the book.

 

Here are ideas of ways to learn together as a family after reading this wonderful book:
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Read author Jane G. Meyer’s take on “The Suitcase,” including why she wrote the book, here: http://www.janegmeyer.com/books/the-suitcase/

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Take time to investigate the scripture passages that are alluded to in “The Suitcase.” You could look them up and read them all at once, or read and study them one at a time with your family after reading the book together. Scriptural allusions include:

Feeding the hungry (Matthew 25:35)

Clothing the naked (Matthew 25:36)

Giving to those in need (Deuteronomy 15:11)

Being a good servant (Matthew 25:21)

Praying for the world (James 5:16)

Having Faith like a mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32; 17:20)

Talking less and listening more (James 1:19)

Entertaining angels (Hebrews 13:2)

Keeping ourselves pure (James 1:27)

Building things if God tells us to do so (Genesis 6:14-22)

The pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46)

The hidden treasure (Matthew 13:44)

Submitting to others (for example, allowing children to lead us) (Ephesians 5:17-21)

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Talk together as a family about Thomas. In what ways is he just like other kids? In what ways is he maybe a little different? What can we learn from him? Then think about each member of your family and talk about each person. In what ways is each family member like others their own age? In what ways are they different? What do you learn from that family member that makes you a better person? Encourage each other to remember to love and learn from everyone else, especially those who are different from ourselves. God has given them to us for that very reason!

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This (non-Orthodox, but encouraging) blog post shares the story of a mom who learned something from her child just as Thomas’ family learns from him in “The Suitcase.” http://www.thebettermom.com/the-better-mom/2011/12/15/lessons-we-learn-from-children-and-a-little-child-shall-lead-them

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Find opportunities to serve your own community, just as Thomas’ family did. Need ideas? Check the back of the book! Author Jane G. Meyer has listed a whole page of ways you can serve your community! Your priest will also have some ideas, as might the principal at your local school, or the volunteer coordinator of your local homeless shelter/soup kitchen. Contact them if you find that you need more ideas!

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“Working together on outreach projects as a family not only allows us to follow Christ’s teachings, but it strengthens family togetherness, helps children learn, and empowers them to understand that they can help others. Serving others benefits a child’s psychological, social and intellectual
development. It increases self-esteem, responsibility and helps children develop new social skills. The time that you spend together as a family helping others will be rewarding and more memorable than almost any other family activity this year.” ~ “Building a Strong Family by Serving Others” by Nicholas Chakos, “The Orthodox Observer,” Feb/March 2015.
If your family is looking for an opportunity to serve an Orthodox outreach beyond your parish/neighborhood, check out the Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve (FOCUS). FOCUS North America operates a variety of ministries in more than 20 cities in the United States. FOCUS’ director wrote the above-quoted article, citing how serving through FOCUS changed his own family for the better. We highly encourage you to take a moment and read the rest of his article, which is found here:
http://focusnorthamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Orthodox-Observer-Family-Ministry-Article-Feb-2015_printed-copy.docx.pdf

On Pursuing Virtue: Temperance

This is part of a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that Orthodox Christians should be working to attain. We will be focusing on the seven capital virtues mentioned in “the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.” As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to grow in theosis, we must not only resist and repent from the sins in our life, but we must also desire and labor to attain the virtues. Our goal is for each of these articles to be a beginning, a place to help us start learning more about each virtue as we pursue it. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we pursue these virtues!

Temperance is the next virtue on our list, so this post will focus on temperance. What exactly is temperance? Those of us familiar with American history might immediately think of the Temperance Movement in the 1800s, which urged people to (initially) reduce their alcohol consumption to a moderate level, and then (later) aimed to prohibit alcohol use altogether. True temperance is more closely defined by the initial urging than the latter. Merriam Webster defines temperance as “moderation in action, thought, or feeling; habitual moderation in the indulgence of the appetites or passions; or moderation in or abstinence from the use of alcoholic beverages.” Note the recurrence of one word in all three of those definitions: the term “moderation.” So temperance, regardless what it is governing, implies moderation.

Temperance is the positive counterpart to the grievous sin of gluttony (“the habit of eating or drinking too much,” according to the “Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians”). So by not eating or drinking too much, we begin on the road to temperance. Fasting is a great help in that pursuit! And it is not just a help, it is necessary, according to St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain. He said, “Temperance in eating is necessary: According to St. Gregory the Sinaite there are three degrees in eating: temperance, sufficiency, and satiety. Temperance is when someone wants to eat some more food but abstains, rising from the table still somewhat hungry. Sufficiency is when someone eats what is needed and sufficient for normal nourishment. Satiety is when someone eats more than enough and is more than satisfied. Now if you cannot keep the first two degrees and you proceed to the third, then, at least, do not become a glutton, remembering the words of the Lord: ‘Woe unto you that are full now, for you shall hunger’ (Lk. 6:25).” (1) So fasting and/or limiting the amount of food we take in is an important step in pursuit of temperance.

We often think of temperance in terms of moderation of food and/or drink, as mentioned in the second and third dictionary definitions. But what about that first definition of temperance that was given by Merriam Webster? Does “moderation in action, thought, or feeling” apply in our Christian faith, as well? Of course it does! Temperance is not just related to our food and beverage intake, but to anything that will keep us away from overindulging! “[Temperance] is to do nothing in excess, neither speaking, nor eating, nor drinking, nor playing, nor working. It requires watchfulness of how we carry ourselves, how we spend our time, how we meet the needs of our body—in short, how we live in this world. We should be temperate in all things except our faith, our hope, and our love.” (2)

Once we begin to pursue (and, by the grace of God, attain) temperance, how can we protect and keep it in our life? In the same way that we protect any other virtue we begin to acquire: by prayer. St. Ephrem of Syria said, “Virtues are formed by prayer. Prayer preserves temperance… Prayer draws into the soul the Holy Spirit, and raises man to Heaven.”

So, dear brothers and sisters, let us “…watch and pray, lest [we] enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt. 26:41) Let us pursue temperance in all things. In food, yes; in drink, of course; but also in every area of our life. May the Lord have mercy on us as we pursue temperance in all things.

“O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust of power and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother, for
Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.”
(The Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian)

 

Footnotes:

  1. “On Three Degrees of Eating, by St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain: http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/eating.html
  2. “The Cardinal Virtue of Temperance,” by Thomas S. Buchanan : http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=14-08-056-c

Here are some other ways that we can learn about temperance:
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Temperance via fasting doesn’t just help our waistline: it helps to protect us from demonic attack. “Fasting is universal temperance, prayer is universal communication with God; the former defends from the outside, whereas the latter from within directs a fiery weapon against the enemies. The demons can sense a faster and man of prayer from a distance, and they run far away from him so as avoid a painful blow.” ~ St. Theophan the Recluse

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“We often think of temperance in respect to what it denies. It avoids sin, it sacrifices, it does without; it is simple, ascetic, poor. And all of these can certainly be true marks of temperance. But temperance affirms as much as it denies and thus the saints of God are meant practice temperance in both their fasting and feasting. Temperance is practicing right proportion. In this it stands in stark contrast to gluttony, which is taking sinful pleasure in excessiveness.” Although it is not Othodox, this blog post offers much to think about when it comes to temperance. http://allsaintschurchdallas.org/all-saints-dallas-blog/post/practicing-temperance-by-fasting-and-feasting

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“..let the desire of possession take hold of no one, for what gain is it to acquire these things which we cannot take with us? Why not rather get those things which we can take away with us–to wit, prudence, justice, temperance, courage, understanding, love, kindness to the poor, faith in Christ, freedom from wrath, hospitality? If we possess these, we shall find them of themselves preparing for us a welcome there in the land of the meek-hearted.” ~ St. Athanasius

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Temperance is included among the virtues that positive psychology has identified as “contribut[ing] to emotional wellbeing and an engaged, meaningful life.” This is just one of that many things that modern psychology has recently scientifically uncovered as important to raising children. Interestingly enough, these things happen to also be things that the Church has taught and practiced since the beginning! Read the article here: http://blogs.goarch.org/de/blog/-/blogs/on-raising-children

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St. Basil once said, “Nothing subdues and controls the body as does the practice of temperance. It is this temperance that serves as a control to those youthful passions and desires.”

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“We must not let the temptations of the world overpower us. We take our strength from God Himself Who is more powerful than anything we may encounter. Exercising self-control means having control over our bodies, our minds, and our tongues. Guard what goes into our bodies so we can guard what comes out of our bodies.” Read more on temperance in its portion of the meditation written by Fr. Christopher Salamy, found at the bottom of this page: http://saintandrewgoc.org/home/2012/2/21/daily-message-faith-truth-and-temperance.html

On Pursuing Virtue: Mildness

This is part of a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that Orthodox Christians should be working to attain. We will be focusing on the seven capital virtues mentioned in “the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.” As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to grow in theosis, we must not only resist and repent from the sins in our life, but we must also desire and labor to attain the virtues. Our goal is for each of these articles to be a beginning, a place to help us start learning more about each virtue as we pursue it. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we pursue these virtues!

The virtue we will focus on for this blog post is mildness. How exactly does one define mildness? Merriam-Webster.com offers these words as a definition: balmy, equable, genial, gentle, clement, moderate, soft, temperate. Each of those words applies to mildness in different contexts, but helps us to get an idea of what mildness is. Perhaps the best way to understand mildness is to think of the grievous sin which is its opposite: and that is anger. “The Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians” defines anger as “unworthy irritation and lack of self-control.” So perhaps another possible definition for the virtue of mildness is “not getting irritated unnecessarily and having much self control.”

Annalisa Boyd beautifully defines mildness in the context of  parenting in an article called “The Ascetic Lives of Mothers,” published on the GOARCH website in 2014 (see link below). Her definition can help us think about the importance of mildness and why we parents must pursue this virtue:“Mildness is used to fight wrath and anger. It consists of kindness, gentleness, and calm in word and action. Whether you have one child or many children, home can become a chaotic place. Mildness is closely related to temperance and humility because it requires a lot of self-control and humility to address the myriad of issues each home faces with kindness, gentleness, and calm. Of course there will be those days you are tempted to lock yourself in the closet and curl up in the fetal position, but the God of the universe is there on those days, too. As we seek the Lord, through prayer and the observance of the sacraments, we can be the calm in our homes. His power is that big!”

The quote above implies that mildness shows itself in the home as kindness, gentleness, and calm. Perhaps if we learn about and work towards those qualities, we will become more mild! We found the following scriptures (quoted below in the NKJV) related to those three qualities that indicate mildness. We  parents would do well to meditate on these passages and aim to live by them, for they can help us on our journey to becoming mild.

Kindness:

Ps. 117:2 “For His merciful kindness is great toward us, And the truth of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!”

Prov. 19:22 “What is desired in a man is kindness…”

Is. 54:8 “With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; But with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,” Says the Lord, your Redeemer.”

Joel 2:13 “Return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm.”

Coloss. 3:12 “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering…”

2 Peter 1:5-8 “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Gentleness:

1 Corinth. 4:21 “What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness?”

Gal. 6:1 “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.”

Phil. 4:5 “Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.”

1 Tim. 6:11 “But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.”

Calm:

Ps. 131:2 “Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, Like a weaned child with his mother; Like a weaned child is my soul within me.”

Prov. 17:27 “He who has knowledge spares his words, And a man of understanding is of a calm spirit.”

Mark 4:39 “Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.”

May God help us all to pursue the virtue of mildness, that we may love Him more purely, follow Him more sincerely, and bless others as we respond to them with mildness (in kindness, gentleness, and calm)!

“O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust of power and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother, for
Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.”
(The Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian)

Read the rest of Annalisa Boyd’s article “The Ascetic Lives of Mothers,” referred to above, here: https://www.goarch.org/en/-/the-ascetic-lives-of-mothers. Purchase the since-published book, full of prayers, here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/ascetic-lives-of-mothers/. Follow her podcast here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/asceticlives.

Here are additional quotes and resources that can help us as we pursue mildness:
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“…parents need to devote themselves to the love of God,” he says. “They need to become saints in relation to their children through their mildness, patience, and love. They need to make a new start every day, with a fresh outlook, renewed enthusiasm and love for their children.” ~ St. Porphyrios

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“As a person progresses in mildness and patience of the heart, so also does he in purity of the body. And the further he has driven away the passion of anger, the more tightly will he hold on to chastity” ~ St. John Cassian

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“Let’s stop fighting and pray in a becoming way. We should put on the mildness of angels instead of the demons’ brutality. No matter how we’ve been injured, we must soften our anger by considering our own case and our salvation. Let us quiet the storms; we can pass through life calmly. Then, upon our departing, the Lord will treat us as we treated our neighbours. If this is a heavy, terrible thing to us, we must let Him make it light and desirable. What we don’t have strength to carry out because of our struggle against sin, let us accomplish by becoming gentle to those who sinned against us.” ~St. John Chrysostom

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“In order for us to become one with God, we are first and foremost required to exhibit meekness, as the Lord Himself says: “Come unto Me…and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matt. 11:28-29)….It is clear that without meekness we will never come to Christ, we will never become one with Him, and consequently, instead of experiencing bliss, we will be most wretched.
Only the meek are under God’s special protection. And this protection is the source of all the indescribable bounties which God showers upon us, of all our happiness and bliss, both temporal and eternal.
This leads us to understand why the Holy Fathers say: “Do not seek miracles, but rather seek a meek person, who is the supreme miracle.” Therefore, let us seek meekness above all and strive to attain it. But to this end we must understand, what exactly is meekness? Meekness is the mildness of a tender age, and not only tender age, but angelic mildness, and not only angelic, but Divine mildness. The most prominent and essential characteristic of saints was precisely such meekness.” ~Saint Seraphim (Sobolev), wonderworker of Sophia, http://www.holy-transfiguration.org/library_en/ct_love_meekness.html
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“To converse with mildness, what a gain it is!” ~ St. John Chrysostom

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“…mankind was endowed with the image of God from the first moment of his existence, man can only acquire the likeness of God by degrees. Saint John Chrysostom indicates that we become like God to the extent of our human power… We resemble Him in our gentleness and mildness and in regard to virtue.” ~ from http://saintandrewgoc.org/home/2014/3/10/triumph-of-orthodoxy-first-sunday-of-holy-and-great-lent.html