Category Archives: Faithfulness

A Closer Look at “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour: Lessons 10 and 11

This is the sixth in a series of closer looks at Fr. Michael Shanbour’s book “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” (available here: https://www.wenorthodox.com/product-page/the-good-samaritan-a-children-s-catechism). This beautifully illustrated hardcover book houses an Orthodox Christian catechism that is intended to be read with children. Find our overview of the book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/12/11/gleanings-from-a-book-the-good-samaritan-a-childrens-catechism-by-the-very-reverend-fr-michael-shanbour/. In each post of this series, we will focus on two chapters (called “lessons”) in the book. We will begin with a synopsis of each lesson followed by a handful of quotes found within its pages. We may also occasionally include a few related links offering additional background or information to the parents. It is our hope that these posts will be a useful resource for parents who are sharing the book with their children, as families learn together about the Orthodox Christian Faith.

 

Lesson 10: Repentance and Confession

The tenth lesson of “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour takes a close look at repentance and the sacrament of Confession. It begins by reminding us that baptism bestows the Light of Christ on us, but we need to keep the faith in order to grow that Light in our hearts. It talks briefly about what we can do to grow that Light: prayer, fasting, love, kindness, Communion, etc., are all ways that we can grow the fire of Christ that has been lit in our souls.

The lesson continues by taking a look at what happens when we sin: the fire in our souls begins to reduce. It compares sinning to shooting an arrow in the wrong direction instead of aiming at the target. The lesson goes on to teach its readers that repentance restores us when we sin.

The lesson talks about the parable of the Prodigal Son, comparing us to him, and reminding us that God is that loving Father, and that the Church is our home. Repentance, or the Sacrament of Confession, is how we come back to the Father and tell Him how sorry we are for what we’ve done. The lesson also returns to the medical reference that is a theme in the book, this time showing how confession is like coming to the doctor to show our illness (sin) and thus allow Jesus to begin to heal us.

The lesson finishes with encouragement to repent daily, and not to despair. Christ, our Doctor, wants to heal us. Confession is one way that we work together with Him, cooperating toward our own healing.

Here are a few quotes from the lesson:

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“The newly baptized person is just a little baby Othodox Christian (even if they are eighty years old!). We have to grow and become stronger in our faith, just like a baby has to grow and learn to walk and talk… The Bible tells us after we’re baptized, after we receive the light, we need to continue to ‘walk in the light’ (1 Jn. 1:7). And if we do, the light of Christ in us grows and burns brighter and brighter.” (p. 82, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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“What do we do when we’re playing and we fall down? Do we just stay there? No! We get back up, right? That’s what we need to do when we sin, too. And what do we call getting back up after we sin? It’s called repentance.” (p. 86, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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“When we were baptized we received our white baptismal robe. The robe meant that our soul had been washed clean. When we sin we get our baptismal robe dingy and dirty. But a heartfelt confession makes it white and bright again.  Also, when we sin we hurt our soul, and we need medicine to be healed. We come to Confession to show Jesus our sin. And Jesus, our Physician, our loving Doctor, heals us.” (p. 87, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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In this 15-minute video, Fr. Ted talks more about Confession. Older children and adults will benefit from hearing his talk. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdfPrbjo2oc&feature=youtu.be

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CHILDRENS CATECHISM - COVER, FRONT copy

 

Lesson 11: Prayer

 

The eleventh lesson of the book begins with a look at why we sin and need repentance in the first place: we forget God. When Adam and Eve walked in the garden with God, they could easily pray always: they didn’t forget God – no! They were right there, walking with Him! But after they chose to sin, they couldn’t feel His love as they once had, and love for Him began to be replaced with putting their attention and love on other things.

The lesson goes on to remind its readers that prayer is not just words: it’s a state of being with God. It tells a story from St. Herman of Alaska, when he wished aloud that he would love God with all of his heart, never forgetting Him and always being so happy to have moments with Him. He was expressing his longing to experience prayer as it was meant to be experienced.

The lesson goes on to discuss how to learn true prayer. First, we listen to the prayers of the Church. We pray as Christ taught us to pray. The lesson talks about other ways that we’ve been given words to pray: through the Bible, the Liturgy, and the Saints. Even the angels have taught us to pray! (The lesson tells the story of how we learned the Trisagion Hymn when a boy learned it from the angels.) The lesson finishes by encouraging us to pray regularly, and to pray the “Jesus Prayer.”

All of these prayers help us to reach our goal, which is to always be with God.

Here are a few quotes from the lesson:

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“Now, do you have a best friend, or at least a very good friend? Do you love being with them? Do you think about them when you’re not with them? …This is how we ought 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 Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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“How we pray to God, how we address Him, the words we use, are important. Our words have to be holy and humble and true. What if you said to your best friend: …‘You have three noses!’? It might be funny at first, but after a while it would make your friend feel like you don’t really know them or appreciate them for who they are. Our words to God should be truthful.” (p. 94, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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“Saying the Jesus Prayer is like walking through a field in the same place every day. What happens if you walk over weeds and brush over and over? You clear a path, a road, right? If we use the Jesus Prayer a lot, we make a path in our heart that keeps us always with God.” (p. 96, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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Listen to (or read the transcript of) Mother Magdalena (of Holy Transfiguration Monastery)’s talk about how prayer helps us to make Christ the center of our life here: https://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/st._ignatius_womens_retreat/prayer_as_a_means_to_make_christ_the_center_of_our_life_at_all_times

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Gleanings from a Book: “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas

For many of us, it is nearly the end of a dreary winter. Although spring is just around the corner, the wintry series of gloomy house-bound days may be tempting us to despair. And now Great Lent has arrived, bringing with it its own set of challenges and hard (but beautiful) work. This is the perfect time for Nicole Roccas’ journal to become available, for we need the grace and challenge that it offers.

In “A Journal of Thanksgiving”, Nicole has compiled and edited a variety of quotes about giving thanks to God in all things. Instead of simply collecting the quotes into a nice little book for her readers to read, ponder, and likely, forget them, Nicole has upped the ante. Each quote appears at the top of a page marked for a specific day of the year, and is followed by three sets of lined spaces, wherein the reader is invited to record a sentence or two of gratitude for something from their day. The intent is for the reader to daily record their gratitude in this journal over a period of three years, welcoming genuine thanksgiving into their life in the process.

In a brief letter at the beginning of the journal, Nicole sets the stage for the reasoning behind its creation. She reminds the reader that thanksgiving has always been at the heart of Orthodox Christian spirituality, so we should continually be working toward endlessly offering thanks to God.The quotes she has selected for the book encourage giving thanks in the good things and for the beauty around us, always recognizing God’s provision for our lives. They also challenge us to give thanks in the struggles, the hardships, the ugliness in which we find ourselves, all the while recognizing God’s omniscience and wisdom.

The book is set up to follow a calendar year, beginning with January 1st. However, Nicole encourages her readers to just begin immediately, when they receive the book, and continue on from there. If, on any given day, one cannot think of a single thing for which to be grateful, never fear: the book ends with 33 thanksgiving prompts that will help anyone who is struggling in ingratitude.

Readers of all ages who wish to grow in their spiritual life will challenge themselves to embrace life with genuine gratitude that pours forth to God, heedless of their circumstances and comfort level. This book is a small step in that direction. Giving thanks – even just for one thing each day – for three years will begin to grow gratitude in the reader/journal writer’s life, and they will grow closer to becoming the person that they were created to be: a grateful, humble servant of God.

The timing of this book’s release is impeccable. After all, what could be a better time to begin the discipline of growing gratitude in our hearts than during Great Lent? May we all grow more grateful, not just during the lenten season – or even “just” for the three years it will take us to work through this book – but for the rest of our lives.

Find the journal here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/a-journal-of-thanksgiving/

Readers who are journeying through the book are encouraged to share their journey on social media with the hashtag #ThanksWritingAFP

Here are a few of the quotes from the book, to help you begin to think about giving thanks to God:

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“Just as athletes win crowns by their struggles in the arena, so are Christians brought to perfection by the trial of their temptations, if only we learn to accept what the Lord sends us with patience, with all thanksgiving. All things are ordained by the Lord’s love.” St. Basil the Great, Letter 101 (January 2, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

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“Nothing is holier than the tongue that in distress gives thanks to God; truly in no respect does it fall short of that of martyrs.” St. John Chrysostom, Homily 8 on Colossians (February 18, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

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“Life-giving and merciful Trinity, receive my thanksgiving for all Your goodness.” Akathist of Thanksgiving, Kontakion 13 (April 11, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

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“We shall give thanks to You, O God;

We shall give thanks, and call upon Your name.

I shall describe all Your wonders.” Ps. 74:2,3 (June 25, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

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“We give thanks unto You, O King invisible, who, by Your measureless power, made all things and, in the greatness of Your mercy, brought all things from nonexistence into being.” The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (August 31, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

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“Let us increase our thanksgiving—not in words, nor in tongue, but in deeds and works, in mind and in heart. Let us give thanks unto Him with all our souls.” St. John Chrysostom, Homily 19 on Ephesians (October 1, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

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“Do you eat? Give thanks to God both before and afterwards. Do you sleep? Give thanks to God both before and afterwards. Do all in the Name of the Lord, and all shall be prospered to you.” St. John Chrysostom, Homily 9 on Colossians (December 16, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

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Gleanings from a book: “Fertile Ground: a Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” by Laura Jansson

Years after a pregnancy, a woman may look back and wonder at how quickly it passed, but in the heart of the experience, pregnancy often feels like it takes an eternity. Those long days and weeks of pregnancy are good preparation for motherhood. Although a woman may understand that fact, sometimes pregnancy still feels lonely and frightening, even if it is not her first one.

Laura Jansson, who is both a mother and a doula, has undertaken the task of walking alongside women who are on the journey of pregnancy. She serves those living near her in her roles as a childbirth educator and a doula. Now, through this book, her comforting and encouraging words can support and help soon-to-be mothers around the globe.

“Fertile Ground” begins with three prayers “of a woman with child”. Jansson recommends that her readers always begin reading her book by praying those prayers. The bulk of the book takes a pensive look at different aspects of pregnancy, and is divided into seven themes: “Welcoming a New Reality” “Experiencing Pregnancy”, “Exploring Birth in Symbols”, “Fearing Labor”, “Braving Labor”, “Becoming a Parent”, and “Preparing for Birth”. Each chapter forms a weekly meditation, and these begin with week six of a woman’s pregnancy, right around the time in which she confirms that she is pregnant. Every meditation is a focused reflection related to the theme under which it falls, and includes stories, insights, and encouraging scriptures and words.

Jansson asserts that pregnancy is, indeed, a pilgrimage, as indicated in the title of the book. She explains in the introduction: “Pregnancy… is a kind of journey: a purposeful one, but sometimes also slow, waddling, and laborious—more of a saunter than a sprint. And saunter is a good term for it. The word [saunter] comes from a French phrase… meaning “to the holy ground.“ For this is a journey traversing a wide spiritual landscape. There are dizzying peaks and eerie valleys, arduous climbs and refreshing streams. Every day we draw nearer to the holy city that is our destination. There we encounter and usher into the world the divine image in a new form: our baby.“(page 11) Through “Fertile Ground”, Jansson walks alongside her reader, pointing out new growth and signs of God’s touch along the path of pregnancy.

“Fertile Ground” is designed to be read weekly, over the course of a pregnancy. There are a series of chapter-specific reflection questions included at the end of the book. These are offered in the event that that the reader wishes to respond to each chapter in a journal. Or, several women experiencing pregnancy simultaneously could read the book together and discuss the questions in the context of a regular gathering.

The lone appendix of the book addresses losing a baby. Jansson is familiar with this difficult path as well. Her child Seraphim fell asleep in the Lord during the first trimester of pregnancy. (May his memory be eternal!) She was inspired to include this appendix because “very sadly, for many of us, loss and pregnancy go hand in hand.” (p. 307) The appendix, like the rest of the book, extends a hand to offer support and hope to its readers.

Women who are on the path of pregnancy will find encouragement and food for thought buried in the deep reflections in this book. In these pages, they will uncover the opportunity to nourish their own spirit even as they nurture the small life within them. Women who have already given birth will find reflections on their experience in this book that will help them to grow even after the fact. In “Fertile Ground”, Laura Jansson offers a treasured gift to the women of the Orthodox Christian Church.

Find “Fertile Ground: A Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/fertile-ground/

Here’s a conversation with Laura about her interesting life and her book: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/everydayorthodox/meet_laura_jansson

Here are some gleanings from the book:

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“The act of making a baby is sometimes called procreation (the Latin prefix pro meaning “forth”). But the phenomenon of fingerprints proves that mothers are more than procreators, merely bringing God’s creation forward into a new generation. Mothering is not just something my body is used for, a passive means of production. Rather, from the beginning He entrusts me to help mold the clay from which He forms humanity. Astonishing as it seems, the Creator lets me come alongside Him, working next to Him in the dirt as His work takes form. He empowers me to be not simply a procreator but a co-creator of one of His greatest works: a human creature who uniquely bears His image and who will help write the next chapter in the story of the world’s salvation history. It’s a noble and high calling indeed.” (p. 28, “Fertile Ground: a Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” by Laura S Jansson)

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“Seeing the co-creative work of childbearing through this eucharistic lens reveals my parental role as priestly in nature. ‘The Eucharist is the anaphora, the “lifting up” of our offering and of ourselves,’ writes Fr. Alexander Schmemann—and in the liturgy of childbearing, my baby is the living sacrifice I lift up to God. When I cooperate with the creative work of God in this way, pregnancy becomes an act of worship, transformed from a mere biological process into a sacred act.” (p. 34, “Fertile Ground: a Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” by Laura S Jansson)

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“…When I host those in need, I entertain angels (Heb. 13:2) or even Christ Himself (Matt. 25:35)… Pregnancy calls me to live out this vocation by offering the welcome of paradise to the little one in my womb. He is like a guest lodging for a season in the innermost chambers of my body. At a cost to myself, I share with him my food, time, and space. Of course, doing so is part of the pregnancy package, and once I sign up I don’t get to choose my terms. But I do have a choice to make. In what manner will I receive my guest?” (p. 43, “Fertile Ground: a Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” by Laura S Jansson)

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“The unity of the Godhead shown in Rublev’s Trinity icon also finds some analogy in our human motherhood. Of course, unlike the Persons of the Godhead, a mother never shares full oneness with her child. Nevertheless, as we stand with swelling bellies, gazing on the three figures in the icon, the circular movement of their reciprocity speaks deeply to us. Their openness to one another moves us. We experience anew the truth that God is not just a self-contained unit but a relational being.” (p. 89, “Fertile Ground: a Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” by Laura S Jansson)

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“God’s warm brightness will always rest on my child no matter which way he chooses as his life unfolds. Whether it’s acknowledged or not, God’s radiant love illumines the whole of humanity: ‘He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good’ (Matt. 5:45)… I have the opportunity to direct my child actively along the illumined path. My bones and muscles and sinews will guide his body into the earthly light; in the same way, my heart can point his heart to the light of heaven. After the enlightenment of his birth-day, I can help him come to the enlightenment of baptism, the enlightenment of the Holy Mysteries, the enlightenment of a life of prayer, and finally, the enlightenment of death into the Kingdom, so that his whole life is a progression toward unity with God.” (p. 118, “Fertile Ground: a Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” by Laura S Jansson)

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“Perhaps this is what the Holy Apostle Paul meant by that rather cryptic statement in one of his letters: he says women ‘will be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control’ (1 Tim. 2:15)… He’s not saying that women are saved by childbearing, as if babies were collectible box tops that could be exchanged for free entry on Ladies’ Night in heaven. No: women, like men, are saved by Christ—each one of us in the circumstances of our own unique life. Rather, Paul says it is possible for us to find our salvation in and through our maternal experience.” (p. 134, “Fertile Ground: a Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” by Laura S Jansson)

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“All our relationships—with the world, with other humans, and ultimately with God—have their locus in our bodies as well as our souls. This is why our worship is so physical. Bodies fold in prostration, incense billows, bells jangle, candles flicker, wine sweetens lips, melodies rise, and chests are enfolded in the sign of the cross. Each of my senses draws me into the beauty of God’s presence. In my worship I ask Him to save me, and that me is an inextricable bundle of body and soul.” (p. 162, “Fertile Ground: a Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” by Laura S Jansson)

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“The logismoi that come to us in labor usually converge around our pain. It’s no sin to have such an impression; it’s how we respond to it that is the issue. If we let the thought be, it passes. If we latch onto it, it leads us to the next one, a little further down the road: This is really bad. Next we come to Poor me! Before we know it we’ve reached a state of mind where our pain is all that exists: I’m dying! This is never going to end! Somebody just kill me now. We have lost all sense of control over our fate; we have become nothing more than slaves to our impressions. Looking at the situation through the lens of Logos rather than logismoi, we see that this trap is an illusion… In labor, as in many of life’s hard situations, we cannot always choose a way out of the experience, but we can always choose a way in.” (p. 198, “Fertile Ground: a Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” by Laura S Jansson)

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“Slowly it dawned on me that, far from being alone in my plight [caring for a child in the middle of the night], I was part of a huge secret army of caregivers keeping vigil through this night. Right now, other mothers and fathers were feeding, rocking, soothing, changing, holding, and tending their babies. There were those up with an older child who had been sick or had a bad dream. There were parents in hospital, propped up next to incubators, or pacing linoleum floors as they labored to give birth. There were people caring for others not their children—beloved parents dying or friends in crisis. There were those whose hearts, or whose monastery bell, had awakened them to pray for those in need. Like night watchmen, each of us took our turn to watch and to sleep, but at no time did the world have to keep turning without the collective witness of our love.” (p. 225, “Fertile Ground: a Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” by Laura S Jansson)

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“…It’s understandable if I want my baby to land in a nest a little more luxurious than the newborn Christ’s. But for me, too, a simple nest can be a fitting one. My baby cares not a whit about color-coordinated nursery accessories. What makes a difference is the space I create to accommodate him. Can I hollow out a place of safety, belonging, and comfort for him in this world? Will I make of my own life the nest in which he can grow?” (p. 268, “Fertile Ground: a Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” by Laura S Jansson)

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“…both we and our babies leave this moment behind; we leave our pregnancies, and our babies leave our bodies. Throughout motherhood we will know this experience again and again. Our little ones leave first our wombs, then our arms, then our sphere of commanding influence, and finally our homes. Their job is continually to go foth, and ours is to allow them to do so. Being a mother, as one scholar puts it, is ‘a lifelong process of  “being there to be left”.’” (pp. 292-293, “Fertile Ground: a Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” by Laura S Jansson)

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“…I felt my miscarriage had reversed the order of creation, putting death before birth. I was the mother of this tiny person, and by dying he had become my senior in the Kingdom. Everything was backwards. Yet because I had never known the child of my own womb, there was a little room for complicated feelings. My huge sadness had a kind of sweet purity to it that left room for a sense of wonder. ” (p. 28, “Fertile Ground: a Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” by Laura S Jansson)

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Expectant mothers may find these scriptures (from p. 201 of Jansson’s book) helpful as a focus point during labor.

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)

***

“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)

***

“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)

***

“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)

***

“‘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)

***

“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)

***

 

A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Chapter 5

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 5: Developing Your Rhythm

All Christians must find time to pray, and the “Little Church” benefits greatly from praying together. The fifth chapter of “Blueprints for the Little Church” focuses on encouraging families to be intentional in planning time for prayer in their family schedule. Authors Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker advocate that their readers to look closely at their most precious commodity: at their time. They urge parents to consider how to budget their family’s schedule in such a way that prayer is not a “tacked on” extra, but is actually a significant part of the daily routine.

The chapter doesn’t just encourage its readers to find time for prayer: it also reminds the reader how important prayer is, and how valuable it is for parents to teach their children to pray by praying with them. The authors suggest a few basic prayer times, and offer several sample schedules. But they recognize that even the best-laid schedule cannot be adhered to at all times. They recommend that for such times, families be prepared to do what they can to stick to the rhythm of prayer they’ve set up for their household, but when they can’t do that, well, then they need to give themselves some grace. (And pick up and continue the rhythm as soon as possible.)

The main thrust of this chapter is that “Little Churches” must pray together. Family prayer times will not happen unless they are intentionally planned and carried out. This chapter offers its readers a push in the direction of making that planning happen.

 

Do you have a 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 5:

***

“Making time for prayer can be one of the greatest struggles for families. There are so many other activities pulling and fighting for our attention that adding one more thing can be overwhelming. Between sports practice, weekly church service, full-time jobs, driver’s ed, and ballet class, it can be hard enough for a family to eat a meal together, let alone say a full prayer rule.” (p. 92, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“The Church in her wisdom offers us a healthy rhythm that leads us to a wholesome and good routine. Instead of the frantic pace of a family spinning out of control, the Church provides an intentional, peaceful rhythm that is firmly grounded in prayer and love.” (p. 93, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Just as we work out our financial budgets, we must budget our most precious commodity, time. Take some time… to go over your weekly time budget… Identify those gaps of time each day when everyone is usually present (barring unforeseen events) and establish those few minutes for family prayer.” (pp. 94-95, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Find the rhythm that works for you. Your house is an extension of the parish and a microcosm of Christ’s Church. Learn to celebrate this and make your home a place where prayer, silence, work, and sacred fellowship are the norm rather than the occasional treat.” (p. 96, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Family prayer is essential, and it should be prioritized— but the timing will vary for each family. It is best if families work out their own rhythm, so long as the critical elements of family prayer and study are always included.” (p. 101, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

What about those times when you just can’t do it? Naturally, there is no need to be legalistic about these rhythms, and when extraordinary circumstances arise, the rhythm should be flexible… The important thing is to make room for prayers in your routine.” (p. 102, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

 

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

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

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

 

Chapter 4: Creating Sacred Space

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

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

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

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

 

Here are a few gleanings from chapter 4:

***

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

***

“Each family will bring their own flavor to the icon corner, and no two will be exactly alike. What all family altars have in common is that they are the gathering place for prayer and worship in the daily rhythm of life.” (p. 73, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Begin with two icons: Christ and the Theotokos. If all you have is a cross, that’s a good starting place, too… If you only have one icon, place it in a conspicuous location in your house and use it for prayer. If you have no printed icons, you have your children and your spouse to pray with you—the living icons of Christ in your life!” (p. 75, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Lighting candles and burning incense also help to shore up the notion that we are bringing the parish into our own home and  that our houses are places where Christ and His angels and saints are welcome.” (p. 78, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Most Orthodox families will receive holy water once or twice a year to bring home. St. John Maximovitch recommended getting enough to last you the whole year and making sure you drink some every chance you get.” (p. 82, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“To use [holy oil]: Place a little of the oil on your finger and make the sign of the cross on the forehead of the person being blessed. This can be a very powerful and emotional experience for parents and their children. Don’t hurry. Pray for each person and sign their head with a cross in the name of the Trinity. You may find your children crave this special connection between the two of you and the saint to whom you are praying.” (p. 87, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“As you set out to create sacred space in your home, know that you cannot do this wrong. Set aside a space in your home and let your icon corner develop as it suits your family best. The important thing is to gather together in prayer and to make room in your home to live out your faith.” (pp. 88-89, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

 

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

***

“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)

***

“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)

***

“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)

***

“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)

***

“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)

***

“‘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)

***