Category Archives: Faith

Gleanings from a Book: “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood

Have you ever wondered what it was like to be an Orthodox Christian in the plains of the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s? “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” offers a glimpse of the life of this immigrant who lived a faithful Orthodox Christian life in the American plains before there were churches available in the region. It follows Fr. Nicola through his immigration, his adjustment to life on the plains, his ordination, his intense years of service as a missionary priest, all the way to his departing from this life. American Orthodox Christians – especially those in the Antiochian Archdiocese – will do well to read this book, to expand their knowledge of the history of Orthodox Christianity in the United States.

Readers who have marveled at the experiences of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books will see some parallels in “Apostle to the Plains.” The Yanneys also lived in a sod house for a period of time while they were homesteading. Although the Ingalls family’s experiences preceded the Yanneys’ by some 20 years, and happened largely in different states, both families suffered illnesses and loss. There were times when each family struggled to attend school or church (because there was none, or it was far away). And despite their hard times, both families endeavored to do what was right and persevered with dogged determination.

A large portion of “Apostle to the Plains” is dedicated to recounting the missionary journeys and busy life of Fr. Nicola’s years as a traveling priest, and at points these chapters feel a bit overwhelming. Even with today’s technology and travel infrastructure, his months of travel and the few weeks at home in between trips would exhaust anyone. But when the reader remembers that his travels happened more than a century ago, with much slower communication and more tedious means of transportation, what he accomplished is truly astounding. Fr. Nicola and his family clearly loved God and took their calling to be a priest (and the priest’s family) very seriously, and they embraced the reality of what that entailed.

Fr. Nicola’s life was far from easy: he left his home in Lebanon at age 19, with his brand-new bride (whom he barely knew) shortly after their wedding and moved to far away Nebraska, where they had to adjust to new language and culture, different weather, and near isolation from family; and where there was no Orthodox Church. The book goes on to share their trials in homesteading, the joys of births and occasional clergy visits, the sorrows of losses and deaths in the family. When Fr. Nicola was ordained to the priesthood, he not only was in charge of the parish in their hometown of Kearney Nebraska, but he was also charged with being the missionary priest who visited Orthodox Christians all over the American plains.

A large section of the book follows Fr. Nicola’s travels. When he traveled, Fr. would hear people’s confessions, commune them, baptize those in need of baptism, marry young couples, and do all the priestly things for the Orthodox Christians who were scattered about the many parts of the plains of the United States. He always tried to be home again with his boys for Christmas and for Pascha (and often for all of Great Lent), but his travels kept him away from them and his home parish for months at a time every year. It was not an easy life for him or for his family, nor did it provide enough financial income.

Fr. Nicola was generous to a fault. Throughout his life, he raised money to share with others back home in Lebanon, and to fund local causes. He and the family generously hosted guests for Sunday luncheons. He traveled extensively, at great cost to himself and his family – and his being away from home made him unable to work and thus make additional income. So he and the family had very little financially. In fact, they had so little that even with re-mortgaging their home multiple times, he was unable to pay $140 in damages from a lawsuit that had been brought against him and his parish! Fr. Nicola gave and gave and gave of both his money and his time, and had very little on earth to show for his generosity.

Readers may be surprised to find that this book offers a glimpse into the life of St. Raphael of Brooklyn as well. The saintly bishop ordained Fr. Nicola, and Fr. Nicola was under his jurisdiction for the rest of Bishop Raphael’s life. Fr. Nicola supported, honored, and admired Bishop Raphael and was justifiably sad when he departed this life. The saint’s passing not only removed him from his position overseeing the Syrian Orthodox churches in America, it also brought great division to those churches. “Apostle to the Plains” explains this division in a way that helps modern American Orthodox Christians to learn more about some of the struggles in the history of our Church.

Fr. Nicola continued to care for his flock right up to the very end of his life. He visited and cared for his Spanish-flu-suffering parishioners in his hometown of Kearney just hours before his collapse and death from that same illness. His sudden passing was a shock to his parishioners, the entire Kearney community, and the Orthodox Christians across the plains whom he had served so diligently.

The Afterword of the book, titled “The Legacy of Father Nicola” is a powerful ending, as it helps the reader to ponder how well the servant of God Nicola Yanney ran his race. It encourages the reader to look beyond Fr. Nicola (and the entire Yanney family)’s struggles, to see the victories, and especially to note his faithfulness. Reading this after having read the book’s account of his life, the reader cannot help but be encouraged in their own life to “know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings… [that they] may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (from Phil. 3:10-11)

May Fr. Nicola Yanney’s memory be eternal!

You can purchase “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” as a paperback or an ebook here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/apostle-to-the-plains-the-life-of-father-nicola-yanney/

Find additional information about Fr. Nicola Yanney, including interviews, videos, and slide shows related to his life and his gifts to the Antiochian Orthodox Church in America; a map of the states that he served; and more at St. George Orthodox Christian Church (the parish that he helped to found in Kearney, Nebraska)’s website: https://www.saintgeorgekearney.com/reverend_nicola_yanney

Here are some gleanings from the book:

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“He would soon be married, and he wanted Martha and their children to live in safety and peace… In America, he could make a new home not only for himself and Martha but also for his brothers. If they all worked together, Nicola could send enough money to make sure that their father would live the rest of his days in comfort, cared for by loved ones who would remain in their village. To do this, however, Nicola himself would have to leave home.” (p. 23,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“While Martha continued to refurbish the [sod] house, Nicola turned his attention to the rest of the homestead. He only had a few months to prepare. Both he and Martha had experienced light snowfalls in the foothills of Koura, but nothing had prepared them for winter on the open plains… In the worst weather, the family would be beyond the reach of help for days and sometimes weeks at a time. Stables and pens had to be built for their animals and more supplies had to be brought from town and stored for the winter in case the roads became impassable.” (p. 51,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“Even without a church of their own, the Syrians celebrated Saint Simeon’s feast day together as they had back in Fi’eh, as well as Christmas, Pascha, and other holy days. Nicola especially desired to help the newcomers, knowing how difficult it was to keep his Orthodox faith in the foreign land, especially without a church or a priest. Though their gatherings were filled with folk songs, dancing, and food, Nicola always remembered to offer prayers and lead his friends in singing hymns, knowing that it was their faith that bound the small community together more than anything else.” (pp. 58-59,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“The kindly priest was… interested to hear of Nicola’s education at the monastery school. One of the reasons for his cross-country tour was to find pious men who might be ordained to serve the scattered Orthodox Syrians. Hearing this, the Syrians suggested that Father Raphael meet the Yanneys… At nine o’clock in the evening, fifteen of the Yanneys’ friends piled into four wagons to accompany Father Raphael on the eighteen-mile trip to the homestead… As they drew near the farm, their singing and shouting grew louder. Several of the men drew out their pistols and fired shots into the air to wake their unsuspecting friends. The Yanneys came running out of their small home, astonished by what was happening, and fell at Father Raphael’s feet. The priest greeted them warmly.” (pp. 72-73,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“With no other Syrian Orthodox priest living within a thousand miles of Kearney, Father Nicola had to serve his daughter’s funeral… At the conclusion of the funeral, Father Nicola placed his priestly stole on Anna’s head and said the prayer of absolution. He had arrived too late to hear her confession or to give her Holy communion.” (p. 146,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“‘My dear Elias, may you be pleasing to God. Be the best version of yourself. Avoid crude and offensive talk. Do not joke coarsely or easily give your heart to others. Be conscientious of your health before anything else… I ask God’s special blessings on you, that you take care of your brothers and your fellow countrymen. Make me proud. Keep me posted about yourself and write me often so that I always know you are fine. I kiss your cheeks thousands and millions of times…’” ~ from a letter Fr. Nicola wrote to his son Elias (pp. 183,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

***

“Though he had been tending to his parishioners only hours earlier, Father Nicola was confined to bed—unable to rise, his strength gone. By late that night, he knew that he was dying and had little time left. Motioning weakly, he beckoned his sons to his side. He had left them on their own so many times, and now he was leaving them once more. Calling Elias, John, and Moses close, Father Nicola said goodbye as he struggled for breath. As they leaned over their father, he gave them a final word by which he himself had tried to live, whispering, ‘Keep your hands and your heart clean.’”(p. 247,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“The legacy of Father Nicola Yanney continues to this day… In him we see a worthy model of the Christian life—one who was faithful in adversity, steadfast in suffering, zealous in evangelism, and selfless in serving others. Through the daily sacrifice of his priesthood, Father Nicola laid down his life for his friends in imitation of his Master.” (pp. 266-267, “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” – Chapter 9

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 9: Growing Up

The ninth chapter of “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” focuses on the opportunity to let our children go as they grow up. The chapter encourages the reader to consider how to best release their child(ren) into God’s care and nurture their children’s spirituality without a drop of coercion. We can offer and pray the Faith into their life, but each child must choose to live it for him/herself.

The chapter includes many quotes from saints, such as this one from St. Porphyrios: “Pray and then speak. That’s what to do with your children. If you are constantly lecturing them, you’ll become tiresome and when they grow up they’ll feel a kind of oppression. Prefer prayer and speak to them through prayer. Speak to God and God will speak to their hearts.” (p. 164) The chapter also offers numerous examples from the authors, suggesting what they have found/are finding helpful in this regard, in their own families.

This ninth chapter is in fact the end of the entire book, not just because it’s the last numbered chapter. The end goal—the aim of raising our children within the context of the little church—is not to merely offer an Orthodox Christian environment in which they can grow up. Rather, the goal of the little church is for family members to walk alongside each other as each of us chooses to live out our Orthodox Christian life. This chapter may seem to be focused on older children, but is very important for parents of younger children to read it closely, for it suggests attitudes and actions that must be successfully taught and modeled long before the children reach young adulthood.

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 9:

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“If we really believe the words of the prayers said at baptism and chrismation, then we cannot simply categorize children into ‘the future.’ They are the parish now, fully invested in what happens around them. If we are raising them in a consciously Orthodox home, in the little church and also in the larger Church, our kids will grow up understanding themselves as having an Orthodox identity.” (pp. 161-162, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“We should not fear this process of testing faith and inviting growth, but instead we should help guide it. We can teach our children who struggle with doubt to pray the prayer of the father in the Gospel, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’” (p. 163, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“The most important thing we parents can do is pray. We can ask that God heal our children and fill them up with profound faith. We can call in the saints and beg help from the guardian angels who watch over them. We can talk to their godparents and get counsel from their confessor. We have armies of help within our reach, and we must call for them urgently at all times throughout our children’s lives.” (p. 164 “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“After years of having credibility with our children, it can be very painful when the children grow into adolescents and stop trusting the information we give… In this process, we should expect to be humbled. God is faithful. He loves our children more deeply than we ever could, and He is always calling us back to His love and into His Church.” (p. 165, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“St. Porphyrios said, ‘It is not sufficient for the parents to be devout. They musn’t oppress the children to make them good by force. We may repel our children from Christ when we pursue the things of our religion with egotism.’ We must work to keep our ego out of this process, and to offer our children an Orthodox way of life without forcing and oppressing them.” (p. 167, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Imagine your child is suffering and you cannot help—whether the child is sick or struggling, parents are eventually forced to recognize their own limits. Suddenly, we see that only God can help, and that indeed, our child belongs to God. We often forget that we are all God’s children first, and parents are merely trusted stewards of His beloved children. When there is something wrong with our children, when they struggle for any reason, we should first pray, ‘Lord, Your child needs You. Come, Lord.’” (p. 169, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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Gleanings from a Book: “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” By the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour”

Author’s note: Recently we became aware that the V. Rev. Fr. Michael Shanbour has finished writing his children’s catechism book, “The Good Samaritan”, and has published it with illustrations by Nicholas Malara. We inquired about the book, and Fr. Michael very kindly shared an electronic copy with us so that we could read it and share it with you. This fully-illustrated hardcover book is geared to children ages 6-12.

“The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” is an excellent resource for any parent or teacher interested in guiding the children in their care towards Christ and the Church. The book is thorough, addressing the basic beliefs of the Orthodox Christian Faith. Fr. Michael calls each of the 13 chapters a “lesson”, for they are set up as such, intended for an older Orthodox Christian to lead the discussion as the book is read together with a child or group. Each lesson focuses on a different portion of our Faith, teaching through stories from the Scriptures or the lives of the saints, as well as through questions about common experiences that we all share. The discussion leader/teacher can read straight from the book, or paraphrase, turning parts of the book into questions to facilitate the discussion. Along the way, Father Michael has included teaching tips that suggest active ways to engage with the text, as well as occasional endnotes which offer additional background information. Each chapter builds on the chapter before in a seamless manner.

At the book’s website, Fr. Michael offers a succinct glimpse at the lessons offered in the book. “In the catechism we are taken from life in Paradise (Lesson 1), through the Fall of Adam (Lesson 2) and the reality of sin (Lesson 3), and into life and redemption through Jesus Christ (Lesson 4). In the Church (Lesson 5) we then encounter Holy Tradition (Lesson 6), the dynamic “river” that runs through the midst of the Church and provides the living water for thirsty souls. The treasure of Holy Tradition then presents the Holy Mysteries of the Priesthood (Lesson 7), the Eucharist (Lesson 8), and Baptism (Lesson 9), along with Repentance and Confession (Lesson 10), all of which are essential for the health and salvation of our souls. Finally, Prayer (Lesson 11), Fasting (Lesson 12) and Almsgiving (Lesson 13) are shown to be the indispensable means of union with God and as lifegiving manifestations of faith, hope, and love.”

Fr. Michael crafted this catechism book over a period of many years. Through his work with the children in his parish (both as a youth director and as a priest) he was able to create this curriculum and test it with the children in his parish. In the author’s preface, he states “by the grace of God we present this catechism with the hope of not only enlightening our dear children with the unchanging truths revealed to the Saints but as a means of spiritual formation — that the Orthodox Christian Faith might become a living reality in their hearts and minds. We have tried to do so in a way that will engage their imaginative faculty in the most positive sense while maintaining and unbending faithfulness to the Orthodox scriptural-patristic tradition preserved in the experience of the Holy Church.“ (p.i)

The illustrations in this book are colorful and heartwarming. Nicholas Malara has a talent for creating age-appropriate and engaging illustrations that draw in the reader. His style varies greatly: we’ve admired his work before in the simple “Good Night Jesus” board book, where he uses a style perfect for toddlers; and we’ve gazed in wide-eyed admiration at his threatening dragon defeated by a mighty angel in “Sasha and the Dragon”. In “The Good Samaritan”, Malara has included a variety of children in the illustrations, and he has beautifully illustrated the Bible stories with unique perspective. His use of light encapsulates the message of the text and speaks volumes through his illustrations. He has infused the entire book with gentle reality which draws the reader in, engaging them further in each lesson. Malara’s illustrations are a joyful compliment to the text.

In its 100+ pages, this hardcover book helps parents, homeschoolers, and Sunday Church school teachers to better be able to teach their children/students about the Holy Orthodox Church and our Faith. “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” can be purchased at https://www.wenorthodox.com/product-page/the-good-samaritan-a-children-s-catechism. (Note: funds raised from the purchase of this book will help Father Michael’s parish, Three Hierarchs Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church in Wenatchee, WA, to build a Church building. They are currently worshiping in a small modular building.)

Here are a few gleanings from the book, to give you a taste of it:

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“The title, ‘The Good Samaritan’, is inspired by Saint John Chrysostom and other Church fathers who, in addition to the more common moral interpretation of showing Christ-like compassion for those in need, have interpreted this parable of the Lord (Luke 10:30-35) as an icon or analogy of the entire economy of salvation. Through this lens we can perceive the Church for what she is—the ‘spiritual hospital’ for the healing of the sickness of sin, and the place where we receive the true ‘Medicine,’ Jesus Christ, through her sacramental, ascetical, and hesychastic Tradition.” (p. ii , “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

***

“Our Christian faith can seem like a puzzle… Because there are lots of different pieces. But all of those pieces together make a beautiful picture. It’s a picture, or icon, of Jesus Christ with His Holy Body, the Church .” (p. 2, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“… Everything in the church—icons, incense, vestments, the Bible, hymns, prayers, almsgiving, the Commandments and doctrines, fasting and struggling against temptation, liturgy and services, sacraments—have only one purpose: to heal us from sin and to join us to God. The cChurch is heaven on earth. Her job is to make everyone and everything holy and united to God. That is Paradise!” (p. 8, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

***

“Paradise—the place where God put Adam and Eve—was like the Church, heaven on earth. But God didn’t want Paradise to be a small place, or just for a few people. He wanted us to make the whole world Paradise. He wanted us to help make the whole world a Church; one big Church where people live with God and God with them. But Adam and Eve only lived in Paradise for a short while. God gave them the ability to make choices. He wanted them to love Him, not because they had to, because they wanted to. He allowed them to make the choice to reject Him and turn away from truth and life. That choice is called sin.” (p. 15, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“Only one tree! Just one tree they could not eat from! That doesn’t sound hard, does it? It’s like when mom says, ‘You can play over here, or over there, and even way over there, but don’t go down there, close to the river!’ Why does she say that? Is it because she doesn’t want you to have fun? No. It’s because she doesn’t want you to get hurt, right?… But sometimes we’re tempted to do it anyway, aren’t we?… This is what happened to Adam and Eve.” (p. 20, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

***

“But when Adam sinned, the icon became dark and dirty. The icon was covered over by sins, like mud or dust covers over a window or a beautiful picture. Imagine a bright and beautiful icon of Jesus Christ. Now imagine that the same icon has been buried in the ground for many years. What has happened to the icon? It has become dark and dingy, dirty and dim. Can you see the image well now? No! It needs to be cleaned. This is what happened to Adam and what happens to us because of sin.” (p. 28 , “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

***

“Have you ever put your shirt on inside-out? It looks kind of funny right? The picture on the shirt isn’t very clear and the tag is sticking out. That’s how our human nature had become because of sin. So how do you fix the shirt that’s inside out? You pull it off to make it right-side-up and put it back on. That’s sort of what God did for us. God’s Son, Jesus, put on our inside-out humanity and made it right-side-up by living a sinless life in perfect communion with God the Father.” (p. 35, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

***

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

***

“Now, did you know there is a river that runs through the Church? There is a river of grace! It is what keeps the medicine flowing to all who need it. What is this river of grace? It is called the Tradition of the Church—Holy or sacred Tradition. The Holy Tradition flows from God the Father, through His Son, and by the Holy Spirit into the Church.” (p. 47, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

***

“God has given to the Church special protectors to guard the River of Grace and keep it from getting polluted. They guard the holy teachings of the Church. They also guard the holy things of the Church. Do you know who these guards are? The first guardians where the apostles, who were selected by Jesus. But who became the protectors of Holy Tradition after the apostles? It was the bishops and priests of the Church! And it is the same today.” (p. 55, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

***

“We have learned that Jesus Christ is the Medicine that heals us and brings us back to life with God. His body and blood is the strongest medicine of all and fills us with God’s own life. As Saint Ignatius said, it has the power to give us immortality. What is immortality? It means living forever with God and with God in us. Would you like to live like that forever? That can happen if we are in communion with Jesus, if we are with Him and in harmony with Him and His Body..”(p.66, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

***

“And how are we born in the Church? What is the mystery that makes us into a new person, as if we are born again? (Here’s a hint: when it happens, you should probably hold your breath. Another hint: we begin our new life with a splash!) Did you get it? Yes, it is the Sacrament of Holy Baptism! .” (p.73, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

***

“When an archer hits the target, it means his aim is good and he is shooting straight. But when he misses the target, there’s something wrong. His aim is off. The same is true for our soul. When we walk in the light of Christ, we are pointing ourselves toward God. We are hitting the target. But when we sin we are shooting in the wrong direction. We have missed the target of what God created us to be and to do.”(p.86, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“This is how we are to be with God: like best friends. Do you forget your best friend? No! And we should try not to forget God either. Do you know what it is called when we remember God? It is called prayer. Prayer is when our hearts are joined together with God.” (p.91, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

***

“Fasting is prayer for our bodies. Because, as we said before, we are called to pray not just with our mind, but with our whole strength, with all our energy and focus, with our whole being, with our whole body.” (p. 100, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“ Prayer and fasting are like two wings. But almsgiving is the ‘wind’ that lift our wings upward to God.” (p. 105, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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Gleanings from a Book: “Of Such is the Kingdom: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard

Summer Kinard offers a great gift to the Church in her book “Of Such is the Kingdom: A Practical Theology of Disability”. Kinard teaches from experience with disability: she herself has neurological differences, and she has children with disabilities. By virtue of her own personal struggles, the insights, wisdom, and encouragement which she shares in this book are true and tested, and heavily seasoned with the love of Christ. This book encourages its readers to extend much grace to those around them whose struggle includes a disability.

“Of Such is the Kingdom” is a beautiful blend of theology drawn from the Scriptures and the Church Fathers; descriptive explanation; and practical suggestions for the Church as a whole. Whether or not the reader’s immediate family is experiencing a disability, this book will be helpful. After all, the Church is our Family, and our Family is definitely experiencing disability. The most Christ-like way we can approach our Family is by doing all that we can to learn about, support, help, and love every member therein. Kinard offers insights that will help the Church to do so, one member at a time.

The book begins with an insightful introduction, and continues in four sections: God’s Time Reveals (Kairos), Becoming Like God in Weakness (Theosis), Self-Emptying Disables the Disability (Kenosis), and The Iconic Community (Koinonia). Readers will have the opportunity to look at the theology of disability with the perspective of God’s time; consider how disability helps to bring us closer to God; begin to learn ways in which parishes and parishioners can better embrace and include their brothers and sisters experiencing disabilities; explore ways in which people with disabilities can serve the Church; and be challenged to better care for those who are experiencing disabilities. Each chapter concludes with a bulleted summary that helps the reader to better solidify their learning, and thought-inducing questions. (These questions will also be helpful for group discussions of the book.) The conclusion is simultaneously challenging and encouraging.

In one of her thought-provoking questions on page 72, Kinard offers a beautiful glimpse at what this book is about: “We are all in this body of Christ together, and people with disabilities, along with those without disabilities, have a common goal of becoming like Christ. The focus shifts from what we are able to do alone to how we can help the whole body work together.” It is not always easy to know how to work together, given all of the differences in the body of Christ, but reading this book – and taking action on the insights it offers – is an excellent place to start.

It is my hope that clergy, parents, teachers, Sunday Church school teachers—in truth, all Orthodox Christians—will read this book, and extend the kindness and grace it inspires. Imagine what the Church will look like when we do this! It will look like heaven on earth, as it is meant to look, extending the love of Christ to every person. May God help us to do so, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Summer Kinard’s website features her blog and a myriad of resources for parents and church school or homeschool teachers. https://summerkinard.com/

Purchase your own copy  of the book here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/new-book-releases/

 

Here are a few gleanings from the book:

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“When we learn how to welcome everyone into the Orthodox Church, with the help of our Tradition, one another, and the practical exercises and resources in this book and the accompanying website, we will learn to live with the humility of children whom God welcomes—not as embarrassments, but as His own beloved creation.” (p. 14, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

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“When we make adaptations for Orthodox Christians to come to church, we are not only making room for them to get in the door—which is an important first step!—but we must adapt our welcome with the aim of sharing the full joy of the Lord. All of us will experience the full joy of God‘s presence when these very bodies are transformed in the resurrection. If we can make room and bend a little toward bearing one another’s burdens, we will adapt now for resurrection joy in the Lord. We will experience the joy of the Lord in foretaste as we welcome people with disabled bodies into the full life of the Body of Christ, the Church.” (pp. 31-32, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

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“This view of disability as a call to holiness in God’s time is the reason the question we Orthodox ask is not, ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’ but, ‘How is this disability for our salvation, and not only the salvation of each person, but also the whole Body of Christ?’” (p. 43, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

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“The healing work of God is to knit each member of the Body of Christ together in the Church. Whether or not healing occurs in our bodies, the healing of the one Body of Christ, the Church, comes when each person is welcomed fully into the Body as a member.”(pp. 82-83, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

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“Every person will pay attention to feelings first, sight second, and thinking third. Once all of these three preliminary types of attention are in place, the highest level of attention, joint attention, can take place. After we look more closely at these four levels of attention, we will see that they parallel the four levels of reading Scripture that Orthodox Christians have practiced in the Church since the beginning.” (p. 116, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

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“Church buildings are microcosms of salvation history, where space is arranged so that we can know ourselves as having a place in the mercy of God. Like our churches, our classrooms and teaching patterns can reflect the pattern of God as a place where God‘s mercy makes us at home. This sense of church as home is open to families with disabilities, too, because God in His mercy became human so that we all might know Him through all of our senses.” (p. 134, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

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“It is one thing to tell a child to make his cross because he is supposed to do so. It is quite another to tell him that when he makes his cross, demons run away like cowards and spiritual brightness like lightning shines forth from his face to frighten away evil. Yet this is the truth that our Holy Tradition has handed down to us. We make the sign of the cross to repel evil and to shine forth the light of God, who conquered death by death, reminding ourselves and every spiritual entity that Christ is risen and has conquered evil.

A child with disabilities might not be able to sing the Pascal hymn with everyone, but he might be able to make the sign of the cross by himself or with assistance. Teach him what it means, and it will become a prayer with great meaning for him. Even if he does not understand, the prayer is still powerful.” (pp. 161-162, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

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“The communication of needs and offers to serve might start small, with checkboxes to volunteer on a stewardship form, cards in an offering plate stating that a meal train would help a family in crisis this week, and an email address and phone number (that definitely will be answered) for pastoral or educational needs. The habit of communicating and connecting people with disabilities with the fullness of the community will grow from there.” (p. 191, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

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“Many persons with disabilities are what we might call “concrete thinkers.” That is, they tend to focus on the meaning of things that corresponds to real, lived experience. Though, as we saw in the earlier chapters on attention, everyone actually learns best with concrete anchors and ideas, teaching with concrete, tangible, or demonstrable examples is especially important to concrete thinkers.” (p. 201, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

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“It is my position that we need to show hospitality to everyone who comes through the doors of the Church and not only be Christ to them but also to receive Christ through them. A parish community is not fulfilling the mandate to serve others if it cannot welcome and find a place for those whose abilities may be different than our own. We rob ourselves of the blessing we receive from them.” (Fr. Christopher Foley, as quoted on p. 218, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

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“The Church is an iconic community because we look like God when we love one another and humbly make room for all members of the Body in our worship, learning, service, and fellowship. As we imitate Christ in love and humility, we are ‘being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another’ (2 Corinthians 3:18), and this likeness applies to every member. When every member is included, the Body of Christ starts to look like God.”(pp. 225-226, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

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“When Jesus describes the last judgment in Matthew 25, He says that feeding the hungry is like feeding Him. We should apply that lesson to the way we welcome families with food allergies, too.” (p. 256, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

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“The works of God are made manifest in us when we as a community imitate the Savior’s love and humility in making space, teaching so that everyone can learn, practicing prayers that all can pray, ministering to one another, and welcoming one another into fellowship as we welcome Christ.” (p. 262, “Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven: a Practical Theology of Disability” by Summer Kinard)

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A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Chapter 2

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 2: Getting Started

The authors of “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” encourage their readers to begin changing their lifestyle to better reflect the life of the Church, but they implore the reader to do so gently. This second chapter of the book offers suggestions of ways to bring the Faith to life in our own homes in a very basic and focused manner. Too much too soon can easily burn a family out, which is not at all the goal. The goal is to grow, and to continue growing, not to flash into a flame that quickly extinguishes.

The reader is encouraged to consider the maxim that Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory was given when he was a young, enthusiastic college student: “Go to church; say your prayers; remember God.” (p. 37) The authors encourage their readers to consider that statement important, because it’s short but full of wisdom when it comes to living the Orthodox Christian life. These three actions will greatly strengthen our little Church. They can be carried out in different ways, none “better” than the others. But our priority should always be that we attend the Divine Services, pray, and keep God foremost in our minds.

The chapter offers suggestions from parents and grandparents of ways to begin doing these things. It shares wise suggestions from Fr. Seraphim Rose as well. Again and again, the reader hears that they should go to church, pray, and remember God. Each suggestion recommends applying gentleness when starting new Orthodox practices, and that families be gracious with themselves and each other along the way. The chapter closes with the admonishment that when we fall, we need to get back up again every time.

 

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

Here are a few gleanings from chapter 2:

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“The two things all Orthodox families should begin doing immediately are very simple: Pray and go to church.” (p. 36, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Begin by committing to attendance at every Sunday liturgy, rain or shine, and begin to schedule your extracurricular activities around church. If your family expects you at Mother’s Day brunch, tell them you’ll hurry over after church. If the soccer team always plays on Sunday morning, let them know that you’ll be in church. Make the firm commitment to attend church every Sunday.” (p. 38, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Many saints’ lives teach us that simple humility and fervent prayer bring us closer to God. Trust in this, and don’t get lost in an effort to do everything all at once. Begin to build your little church by laying a foundation of prayer and church attendance, and then build it up layer by layer, a little at a time.” (p. 41, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Learn first of all to be at peace with the spiritual situation which has been given you, and to make the most of it. If your situation is spiritually barren, do not let this discourage you, but work all the harder at what you yourself can do for your spiritual life. It is already something very important to have access to the Sacraments and regular church services. Beyond this you should have regular morning and evening prayers with your family, and spiritual reading—all according to your strength and the possibilities afforded by your circumstances.” (a quote from Fr. Seraphim Rose, as shared on p. 42, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Ask God and His saints to help you as you shepherd your family along this path. Pray that all of you will grow in your love for Christ, that each of you will come to yearn for Him and for a life in the Church. This is the most important thing you can do to help your little church grow.” (p. 43, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“‘Don’t force children to pray, because that might make them become bitter towards it. Instead, just pray in front of them and ask them to participate. If they refuse to join in, then just pray by yourself and try again the next day. Lead by example.’ —Sophia, mother of two” (p. 44, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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A Closer Look at John 3:17

The Antiochian Archdiocese’s 2020 Creative Arts Festival has as its theme John 3:17, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Learning and understanding the meaning of this verse is pivotal to our Christian life, for it encourages us to examine condemnation, salvation, and judgement. In context, this verse also affords us the opportunity to choose for ourselves how to respond to God’s offer of salvation through Christ. As we study John 3:17, we can help our children to do the same. Thinking about this verse will help our children to grow in their Faith, while also preparing them to respond to it artistically, if they’re participating in the Festival. 

Rosemary Shumski, Creative Arts Festival coordinator for the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education, reflects on the theme in this guest blog:

Let’s examine this quote in context. Most of us are more familiar with the quote from John 3:16, which precedes it, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should have everlasting life.” We then have our Creative Festivals Theme, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17) This is followed by the quote, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18)

Here are some comments from the Orthodox Study Bible: “While Christ comes to save and not to condemn, man has free will. Thus he can reject this gift, and he becomes condemned by his own rejection.”

Jesus came into the world so that we could be rescued from condemnation. The name “Jesus” literally means “God saves.” He came to show us how we could be reunited with God. In his book, The Great I Came’s of Jesus, Fr. Anthony Coniaris states, “Before Jesus came, we were a fallen race. We needed not a judge to condemn us but a Savior to raise us from our fall…Jesus said, ‘Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but those who are sick. I have come not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’ We needed someone to lift us, to heal us, not someone to judge and condemn us.”

Because Jesus became incarnate, He is like us in all ways except sin, so He understands His people. Jesus is compassionate, because He knows what it’s like to be tempted. But we have to make the choice as to whether we want to turn away from Him or repent and turn to Him. God didn’t create us to be robots. Because He gave us free will, we have to make that decision for ourselves.

 

Find more information about the Creative Arts Festival theme for 2020 here: http://www.antiochian.org/dashboard?name=Creative%20Festivals%202020

Here are some ways that you can continue to ponder John 3:17:

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An easy way to learn the message of John 3:17 is with the catchy theme song for the Creative Festivals. Here you will find the lyrics and a link to the audio so that you can listen and learn it for yourself! http://www.antiochian.org/regulararticle/448

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“By the Cross, the Son of God having become man, accomplished our salvation…The Cross of the Lord was the instrument by which He saved the world after the fall into sin. Through the Cross, He descended with His soul into hell so as to raise up from it the souls who were awaiting Him.” ~ St. John Maximovitch

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Fr. Joseph Purpura explains the logo for the 2020 Creative Arts Festival theme: “The logo… depicts Christ healing a blind man — Christ is the Healer. Unlike others, Christ did not condemn the blind man for his affliction. Likewise, He did not condemn those who had fallen and sinned. Instead, He healed and restored them to a new life and a new opportunity. Once they were healed, Jesus then told them to change their lives and sin no more.”

creative festivals logo 2020

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“Think then what proofs of lovingkindness these are; by Grace to remit sins, and not to punish him who after grace has sinned and deserves punishment, but to give him a season and appointed space for his clearing. For all these reasons Christ said to Nicodemus, ‘God sent not His Son to condemn the world, but to save the world.’” ~ From St. John Chrysostom’s homilies on the Gospel of John, Homily 28

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“’For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.’

It is so simple a message that it is difficult to grasp.  In our weakness of mind it is hard to understand how God can love everyone; his enemies, unrepentant sinners and the righteous all the same.  We cannot bear to admit that God loves even those whom we cannot dream of loving. Even our enemies! The God we imagine into existence fits our notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, good and bad so much that he turns into a projection of our own minds, in other words, an idol.

As one Orthodox writer puts it (and I paraphrase), it is better to say that God does not exist than to project onto him our needs, desires and fantasies.”

So begins Fr. Antony Hughes’ sermon on John 3:17, preached at St. Mary Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA, on Sept. 13, 2009. Read the sermon in its entirety here: http://stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/sermons/2009/for-god-so-loved-the-world

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“Our whole understanding of what heaven and hell is, has been so distorted and abused by the teachings of the Western churches that it has even entered our Church and made us blind to the teachings of the Gospel and the teachings of the Church Fathers. Heaven is not up there, and hell is not down there. You want to know what hell is? Hell is an absence of God (whether it’s here on this earth or in the afterlife), and it is a turning away from God. You want to know who condemns us to hell? We condemn ourselves. To find yourself in hell is to turn your back on God, to reject God, to reject His mercy. There are people out there who are living in hell on this earth right now, and the sad thing is that they often don’t realise it. They love to blame society, those around them, even the Church, but the answers to their problems are inside of them! All they need to do is to discover God and His kingdom within them, and then will they realise what they’ve been missing all this time. God can’t condemn us to an eternity of misery. It’s just not in His nature. He can only love, but He can’t force you to love Him. If you choose to turn your back on God, turn your back on His unconditional love, then you will create your own hell.” ~ Nick Brown, “Sermon for the Sunday before the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross”, Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, Brisbane, QLD, Sept. 1999

Read the rest of the sermon here: http://www.orthodoxchristian.info/pages/beforecros.htm

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Gleanings from a Book: “The Cross and the Stag” by Gabriel Wilson

Author’s note: Because I happened to be in the right place at the right time, I was privileged to see a few spreads of this book more than a year before its publication. Although they were but sketches when I saw them, I was struck by their quality and the images gripped me. And my first reading of the (now full-color) book has confirmed what I suspected even then: this book is a treasure. 

“The Cross and the Stag” by Gabriel Wilson tells the true story of Placidas the soldier, who, amidst his worldly successes and earthly means, was lovingly faithful to his wife and sons, while also being very generous to those in need outside of his home. Perhaps you have never heard of Placidas the Soldier? He was given the name Eustathius at baptism. If you are not familiar with St. Eustathius, either, his story is one that you will do well to learn. There is much that each of us can learn from this saint: through his responses to both misfortunes and pleasant experiences, and through his faithfulness to God. Eustathius already had a good life when he first met Christ, and he served Our Lord fervently after his conversion.

Just like many saints who had gone on before him, Eustathius’ life did not continue to be “good” – well, at least by worldly standards. However, also like those saints, he remained faithful to Christ for his entire life. Like St. Paul, Eustathius had a powerful visitation from Christ which became a conversion experience for him and his household (although his wife had been mysteriously forewarned in a dream, so she was ready!). Like Righteous Job the Longsuffering, bit by bit Eustathius’ status, wealth, and finally even his family were taken from him. Like Righteous Joseph the Patriarch, his faithfulness in his work eventually brought Eustathius honor (and miraculously his loved ones were restored to him once again, as well). And finally, like the Three Holy Youths, the family faced a fiery entrapment with faith and grace.

Throughout the book, Gabriel Wilson has thoughtfully paired his images and text in a way which seamlessly tells the story while also allowing the reader to read between the lines when necessary. The illustrations are masterfully created, simultaneously communicating actions and emotions in a way that is both tasteful and effective. What a gift it is to have an artist of this caliber offer his work to the Orthodox Christian world in a way that makes a saint’s story so appealingly accessible to people of all ages!

Following St. Eustathius’ story in the book, readers will find the troparion and kontakion for St. Eustathius. There is also a spread featuring a variety of icons of him which have been written. The book concludes with a few historical notes from the author.

St. Eustathius’ story is gripping! I sat down to just begin the book but ended up reading the whole thing in one great gulp. Mystery, suspense, loss, love: all are found on the pages of this beautiful work of art. I know that I’ll read it again, and I suspect that I will not be the only one. There’s something here for everyone. St. Eustathius’ story and the lessons that his life teaches us will be treasured by each individual who reads this book.

To purchase a copy of this book, visit https://store.ancientfaith.com/the-cross-and-the-stag-the-incredible-adventures-of-st-eustathius/

Here are a few gleanings from the book (this time, we are sharing the  quotes in the context of their images), as well as additional information about St. Eustathius:

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On Sept. 20, we commemorate St. Eustathius and his family. Here is a short podcast about them: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/saintoftheday/sep_20_-_great_martyr_eustathius_placidas_and_his_family

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Find the story of St. Eustathius’ life, along with many icons which have been written to help us remember him, here: https://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/09/st-eustathius-eustace-placidas-great.html

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There’s even more of the story of St. Eustathius (including backstory of his family’s experiences) in this detailed description of his life: https://pravoslavie.ru/74099.html

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In the historical notes at the end of “The Cross and the Stag,” we read that “St. Eustathius is the patron saint of hunters, firefighters, and those who face adversity.” Author Gabriel Wilson also notes that people request St. Eustathius’ prayers when they’re traveling over rivers and seas. Readers facing adverse times (or traveling, hunting, or firefighting) may be glad to learn this, and ask for his prayers.

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