Category Archives: Faithfulness

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:

***

“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)

***

“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)

***

 

A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Chapter 1

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 1: Why the Little Church?

In chapter 1 of “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”, authors Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker help their readers better understand the concept of the “little Church”. The chapter begins by reminding each reader that “The Church” is not a building or place: rather, it is the Body of Christ, including all of His people throughout time. The smallest unit of the Church is the family unit, or the “little Church”.

The chapter goes on to suggest that family life is a type of asceticism. Just as monks are interrupted from their daily tasks for prayer, so family members are interrupted from their daily tasks by each other. But rather than distracting us from it, family life can actually bring each member of a family deeper into the spiritual life, when it is properly approached. The authors encourage their readers to look for ways to make their own home a “natural monastery”, where the family works together and grows spiritually at the same time.

The chapter continues with a closer look at marriage and baptism: two foundational events in the construction of the little Church. The authors offer their readers the opportunity to revisit many prayers from each of those events, to see how, even from marriage and from baptism, the Church of their home is being established among its members. The authors encourage parents to remember that it is their job to raise saints, and that, as they work toward that end, the family can practice asceticism together. The chapter closes with several “holy habits” that families can develop to work toward this end.

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 1:

***

“The little church has its own hierarchy and its lay versions of the sacraments—we break bread together, we bless one another, anoint one another, pray for one another, and love one another in this little community, striving together to grow ever closer to Christ.” (p. 22, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Family life, however, can also lead one to deep spirituality. A family can be immersed in prayer, both at table and after, and their hospitality and generosity will speak of an earnest application of Christ’s exhortation to love their neighbor as themselves.” (p. 23, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“God sends everything to us for our salvation, and we can receive it that way, accepting each of our daily tasks and experiences as a call to prayer. When confronted with mountains of laundry, we can thank God for clothing us as He clothes the lilies of the field; when approaching a sink full of dirty dishes, we can thank Him for providing food and ask that He nourish our souls as well. Every mundane task that makes family life so busy can be received as a call to prayer.” (p. 25, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“The truth is that your home is a school, a hospital, and a church. Your children will learn their spirituality from you, and it is a sacred calling for parents to shepherd—literally, to pastor—their children in the ways of righteousness.” (p. 27, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“It is in these moments—these holy spaces—that man and woman are no longer individuals but are bound to one another, and a new one icon is created. It is in this holy event that a young child is crucified with Christ, resurrected with Him in glory, sealed with the Holy Spirit, and tonsured—set apart—for the work of the priesthood in which all believers participate.” (pp. 29-30, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“…Our little churches should be communities always centered on Christ, where love and forgiveness reign, where we pray together ad struggle toward salvation together. This includes directing our children in loving submission and repentance to their Heavenly Father, who has promised to complete a good work in them. It is not about manners—it’s about holiness. It’s not about “good behavior” — it’s about a life given completely to God in loving humility and peace.” (p. 32, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Sunday school, religious schools, and summer camps are not enough; they may enrich what you are doing in the home, but they cannot replace it. We cannot outsource the raising of saints.” (p. 34, “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 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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On the Mother of God: Quotes from the Church Fathers

As we prepare our hearts for and then commemorate the Feast of the Dormition of the Holy Mother of God, let us take some time to think about Mary, the Theotokos. What can we learn from her love for God and her submission to His will? How did her choices and the way that she lived her earthly life affect ours? How does she continue to impact the world since her dormition?

We have gathered quotes from the Church fathers about the Theotokos. Many of those quoted here lived in an age closer to her earthly life than the current era. We plan to share these quotes for you to ponder throughout the (new calendar) fast. As you read each quote, may you be inspired to be as genuine, humble, and obedient as she has been.

May the Holy Mother of God pray for all of us, that we will be saved and that we will follow God as wholeheartedly as she did!

 

In case you missed these when they first came out, here are two related posts. The first offers some thoughts – mostly from the scriptures – about the Theotokos as a mother and how parents can be encouraged to emulate her: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/on-the-theotokos-as-mother/

And the second offers a story that may be a helpful tool as you talk with young children about her Dormition: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/08/03/on-the-feast-of-the-dormition-of-the-theotokos-august-15-or-28/

 

Here are a few of the things that the Church Fathers had to say about the Mother of Our Lord:

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“I have been amazed that some are utterly in doubt as to whether or not the Holy Virgin is able to be called the Mother of God. For if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, how should the Holy Virgin who bore him not be the Mother of God?” ~ St. Cyril of Alexandria

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“Come, let us wonder at the virgin most pure, wondrous in herself, unique in creation, she gave birth, yet knew no man; her pure soul with wonder was filled, daily her mind gave praise in joy at the twofold wonder: her virginity preserved, her child most dear. Blessed is He who shone forth from her!” ~ St. Ephraim the Syrian

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“In her manner she showed that she was not so much presented into the Temple, but that she herself entered into the service of God of her own accord, as if she had wings, striving towards this sacred and divine love. She considered it desirable and fitting that she should enter into the Temple and dwell in the Holy of Holies.

Therefore, the High Priest, seeing that this child, more than anyone else, had divine grace within her, wished to set her within the Holy of Holies. He convinced everyone present to welcome this, since God had advanced it and approved it. Through His angel, God assisted the Virgin and sent her mystical food, with which she was strengthened in nature, while in body she was brought to maturity and was made purer and more exalted than the angels, having the Heavenly spirits as servants. She was led into the Holy of Holies not just once, but was accepted by God to dwell there with Him during her youth, so that through her, the Heavenly Abodes might be opened and given for an eternal habitation to those who believe in her miraculous birthgiving.” ~ St. Gregory Palamas

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“And since the holy Virgin hath borne after the Flesh God united personally to the Flesh, therefore we do say that she is also Mother of God, not as though the Nature of the Word had the beginning of Its existence from flesh, for It was in the beginning and the Word was God, and the Word was with God [John 1:1], and is Himself the Maker of the ages, Co-eternal with the Father and Creator of all things.” ~ St. Cyril of Alexandria

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“I cannot describe to you how much our Panagia likes chastity and purity. Since she is the only pure Virgin, she wants and loves everyone to be like that. As soon as we cry out to her she rushes to our help. You don’t even finish saying, ‘All-holy Theotokos, help me’ and at once, like lightning, she shines through the nous and fills the heart with illumination. She draws the nous to prayer and the heart to Love.” ~ Elder Joseph the Hesychast

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“How honored and magnified is mankind through the Holy Virgin Mother of God, for it has been made worthy of renewal and sonship by God; She herself was made worthy by her immeasurable humility and exceedingly great purity and holiness to be the Mother of the God-man!” ~ St. John of Kronstadt

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“When God became known to us in the flesh, He neither received the passions of human nature, nor did the Virgin Mary suffer pain, nor was the Holy Spirit diminished in any way, nor was the power of the Most High set aside in any manner, and all this was because all was accomplished by the Holy Spirit. thus the power of the Most High was not abased, and the child was born with no damage whatsoever to the mother’s virginity.” ~ St. Gregory of Nyssa

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“Why is it hard to believe that Mary gave birth in a way contrary to the law of natural birth and remained a virgin, when contrary to the law of nature the sea looked at Him and fled, and the waters of the Jordan returned to their source (Ps. 113:3). Is it past belief that a virgin gave birth when we read that a rock issued water (Ex. 17:6), and the waves of the sea were made solid as a wall (Ex. 14:22)? Is it past belief that a Man came from a virgin when a rock bubbled forth a flowing stream (Ex. 20:11), iron floated on water (4 Kings 6:6), a Man walked upon the waters (Mt. 14:26)? If the waters bore a Man, could not a virgin give birth to a man? What Man? Him of Whom we read: ‘…the Lord shall be known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day; and they shall offer sacrifices, and shall vow vows to the Lord, and pay them’ (Is. 19:20).

In the Old Testament a Hebrew virgin (Miriam) led an army through the sea (Ex. 15:21); in the New testament a king’s daughter (the Virgin Mary) was chosen to be the heavenly entrance to salvation.” ~ St. Ambrose

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“…The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.

For just as [Eve] was led astray by the word of an angel, so that she fled from God when she had transgressed His word; so did [Mary], by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should sustain God, being obedient to His word. And if the former did disobey God, yet the latter was persuaded to be obedient to God, in order that the Virgin Mary might become the patroness of the virgin Eve.

And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so is it rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience having been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience.” ~St Irenaeus of Lyon

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“The Most Holy Mother of God prays for us ceaselessly. She is always visiting us. Whenever we turn to her in our heart, she is there. After the Lord, she is the greatest protection for mankind. How many churches there are in the world that are dedicated to the Most Holy Mother of God! How many healing springs where people are cured of their ailments have sprung up in places where the Most Holy Theotokos appeared and blessed those springs to heal both the sick and the healthy! She is constantly, by our side, and all too often we forget her.” ~ Elder Thaddeus

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“When you are about to pray to our Lady the Holy Virgin, be firmly assured, before praying, that you will not depart from her without having received mercy. To think thus and to have confidence in her is meet and right. She is, the All-Merciful Mother of the All-Merciful God, the Word, and her mercies, incalculably great and innumerable, have been declared from all ages by all Christian Churches; she is, indeed, an abyss of mercies and bounties, as is said of her in the canon of Odigitry..” ~ St. John of Kronstadt

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“O undefiled, untainted, uncorrupted, most pure, chaste Virgin, Thou Bride of God and Sovereign Lady, who didst unite the Word of God to mankind through thy most glorious birth giving, and hast linked the apostate nature of our race with the heavenly; who art the only hope of the hopeless, and the helper of the struggling, the ever-ready protection of them that hasten unto thee, and the refuge of all Christians: Do not shrink with loathing from me a sinner, defiled, who with polluted thoughts, words, and deeds have made myself utterly unprofitable, and through slothfulness of mind have become a slave to the pleasures of life. But as the Mother of God Who loveth mankind, show thy love for mankind and mercifully have compassion upon me a sinner and prodigal, and accept my supplication, which is offered to thee out of my defiled mouth; and making use of thy motherly boldness, entreat thy Son and our Master and Lord that He may be pleased to open for me the bowels of His lovingkindness and graciousness to mankind, and, disregarding my numberless offenses, will turn me back to repentance, and show me to be a tried worker of His precepts. And be thou ever present unto me as merciful, compassionate and well disposed; in the present life be thou a fervent intercessor and helper, repelling the assaults of adversaries and guiding me to salvation, and at the time of my departure taking care of my miserable soul, and driving far away from it the dark countenances of the evil demons; lastly, at the dreadful day of judgment delivering me from torment eternal and showing me to be an heir of the ineffable glory of thy Son and our God; all of which may I attain, O my Sovereign Lady, most holy Theotokos, in virtue of thine intercession and protection, through the grace and love to mankind of thine only begotten Son, our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, to Whom is due all glory, honor and worship, together with His unoriginate Father, and His Most Holy and good and life creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.” ~ from the Small Compline: The Supplicatory Prayer to the Most Holy Theotokos

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“Hail to you forever, Virgin Mother of God, our unceasing joy, for to you do I turn again. You are the beginning of our feast; you are its middle and end; the pearl of great price that belongs to the kingdom; the fat of every victim, the living altar of the Bread of Life [Jesus]. Hail, you treasure of the love of God. Hail, you fount of the Son’s love for man. . . . You gleamed, sweet gift-bestowing Mother, with the light of the sun; you gleamed with the insupportable fires of a most fervent charity, bringing forth in the end that which was conceived of you . . . making manifest the mystery hidden and unspeakable, the invisible Son of the Father—the Prince of Peace, who in a marvelous manner showed himself as less than all littleness.” ~ St. Methodius

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” . . . when the Church tells us in Her hymns and icons that the Apost­les were mira­culously gat­he­red from the ends of the earth in order to be pre­sent at the repose and burial of the Mot­her of God, we as Ort­ho­dox Chri­sti­ans are not free to deny this or rein­ter­pret it, but must believe as the Church hands it down to us, with sim­pli­city of heart.” ~ St. John Maximovich
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