Category Archives: Feasts

Learning from the Saints: St. Paul (June 29)

As we prepare for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29, let us take time to learn more about each of these saints, and help our children to do the same. This post will focus on St. Paul. (There are so many details of his life that we could not include, so we have tagged scriptural references, so you can read more if you wish to!)

 

The Holy Apostle Paul was born in Tarsus. He was from the tribe of Benjamin, and was originally named Saul. He was a very intelligent man, who studied under the renowned teacher Gamaliel. He learned to be a tentmaker, and worked as one (at least part time) for much of his life.

He was a very zealous young man, who honored his Judaic faith and did all that he could to protect it. This is why he was present at the stoning of St. Stephen: he considered Christians to be heretics of the Jewish faith, and wanted to do what he could to purify and preserve it. (Acts 7:58)

Saul was adamant that the Christian movement be stopped, and he did all that he could to stop it. (Acts 8:3) He was on his way to Damascus to continue his mission to rid the area of Christians (Acts 9: 1-2) when he had a life-changing vision. In a blinding light, Christ Himself stopped Saul on the road and spoke to him. Saul was blind after that encounter, and the voice of Christ left him with directions to go to Damascus and wait for instructions there (Acts 9:3-9).

Saul obeyed Christ’s commands, went to Damascus, and sent for Ananias. Thankfully Ananias also obeyed Christ’s command to go see Saul, even though he knew that Saul was an enemy of the Christians, and therefore feared for his own life. Upon arrival, Ananias prayed for the repentant Saul and God healed his eyes (Acts 9: 10-19). He began to preach that Christ is the Son of God, and was so convincing that many Jews were amazed! (Acts 9: 20-22) When local authorities found out that Saul was preaching about Christ, they came in pursuit of him. But the other Christians let Saul out of the city by lowering him in a basket over the city wall (Acts 9: 23-25). He returned to Jerusalem, where Barnabas (who had also studied under Gamaliel) took him under wing, defending him against the Christians who still doubted his conversion (Acts 9:26-28). Saul and Barnabas worked in Antioch for a season (Acts 11: 26). Then the Holy Spirit led Barnabas and Saul to set off on many missionary journeys (Acts 13: 1-3). Saul’s lifestyle of enthusiastic diligence continued, only now he was zealous to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone who would listen!

They traveled first to Cyprus. During this time is when the scriptures begin to refer to him as Paul (Acts 13: 9). From there they traveled to modern-day Turkey (Asia Minor) (Acts 13: 13). While there, Paul preached and helped many people to learn about Christ. God used him to heal a crippled man (Acts 14: 8-10). The Jews were upset that so many people were learning about Christ, so they came and found Paul, stoned him, and left him for dead. But he was not! (Acts 14: 19-20). Paul and Barnabas traveled from there to Jerusalem, teaching and preaching along the way (Acts 15). Then they traveled back to Antioch for a while. They decided to revisit the cities where they had preached, but could not agree on who to take along. So it was that Barnabas and Paul parted ways, each taking another man to help them (Acts 15: 36-40).

Paul and Silas’ travels led them to meet a half-Jew/half-Greek named Timothy (Acts 16: 1-3); a seller of purple named Lydia (Acts 16: 14-15); and a spirit-possessed slave girl whom they healed (Acts 16: 16-19), among others. Healing the spirit-possessed girl landed them with beatings and imprisonment. That night there was an earthquake that unlocked all the prisoners’ chains, but none escaped. Instead, Paul and Silas were welcomed into the jailor’s house, where they preached and converted the entire household. (Acts 16: 20-34) When it was discovered that both Paul and Silas were Roman citizens with rights as such, they were quickly asked to leave the city!

When they left, they traveled, ministering in Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens (Acts 17); Corinth and Antioch (Acts 18); Ephesus (Acts 19); Macedonia and Greece (Acts 20); and Jerusalem (Acts 21-22). Along the way, they encountered difficulties, resistance, and people who wanted to learn about Christ. In Jerusalem, there was such an uprising against Paul that he was bound and was to be questioned during a scourging (Acts 22:22-24), until Paul asked if it was legal to treat a Roman citizen like that (Acts 22: 25-28). It was not, so he was unbound. However, the Jews really wanted to kill Paul, so the centurion sent him to Governor Felix by night, with an armed guard of 200 men (Acts 23). Governor Felix kept postponing making a decision of what to do with Paul, so his case was passed on to Governor Festus when he took over (Acts 24). Governor Festus’ inquiries led Paul to appeal to Ceasar (Acts 25).

Governor Festus asked the visiting King Agrippa to hear Paul’s case, and Paul thus had the chance to tell the story of his life and his conversion to both of them (Acts 26). After hearing this, King Agrippa told Governor Festus that Paul could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.

Paul’s voyage by boat to Rome for that appeal was struck with a terrible storm which ended with a shipwreck in Malta. All aboard survived (Acts 27).

Paul’s miraculous survival of a viper bite opened the doors for him to minister to the people of Malta before catching another ship to go on to Rome (Acts 28). When they arrived in Rome, Paul was allowed to live in a rented house with his guard. He lived there for two years.

During all of his journeys as well as while under house arrest in Rome, Paul wrote letters to individuals and churches. 14 of these letters have been included in the New Testament and are encouraging even to their modern day readers! Paul was given the title “The Apostle to the Gentiles” because of his missionary work everywhere from Arabia to Spain, to Jews and Gentiles alike.

Around the year 68 AD, during the time of Nero’s persecution, Paul was beheaded for his faith. He was buried where the basilica of St. Paul now stands.

First-enthroned of the apostles,
teachers of the universe:
Entreat the Master of all
to grant peace to the world,
and to our souls great mercy!

Today Christ the Rock glorifies with highest honor
The rock of Faith and leader of the Apostles,
Together with Paul and the company of the twelve,
Whose memory we celebrate with eagerness of faith,
Giving glory to the one who gave glory to them!



St. Paul, Apostle of Christ, intercede for our salvation!

Sources: The Bible, “The Prologue from Ochrid” by St. Nikolai Velimirovic,  and http://stpaul-orthodox.org/stpaullife.php

 

Here are some other ways that your family can learn about St. Paul:

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This site has many pages about St. Paul: http://www.biblicaltourguide.com/aboutstpaul.html

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There are many (non-Orthodox, but very helpful) stories from and printables about the life of St. Paul at the Biblewise.com website:
Here is one sample: http://biblewise.com/kids/fun/amazing-paul.php

(Search “Paul” for hundreds of entries.)

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For a hands-on introduction to the life of St. Paul, try this with your children: Select a number of the scriptural references in the blog we wrote about his life, and find a prop for each (ie: dark glasses for when he was blinded, a boat -or part of one- for when he was shipwrecked in Malta, etc.) Strew the props wherever you will be meeting as a family for this learning time. Have a basket containing all of the references available. Allow each family member to select a reference, read it (you read it for them if they need help), and guess its prop. After every prop has had its story told, work together to put the “prop life of St. Paul” in order according to the scriptural references.

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Read the journal of an Orthodox Christian who traveled with others from her parish to see many of the sites where St. Paul had been: http://stpaulsirvine.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/A-Journal-of-a-Pilgrimage-in-the-Footsteps-of-St.-Paul.pdf

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These videos offer the life of St. Paul as a documentary in four 15-minute segments:

1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfMkKTKIN3g

2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIrorT_aqsQ

3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWT2qf4naDo

4 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mC8ClbcZ2vA

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Here is a five-minute Orthodox video about the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=117&v=NREVFRDUdJg

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Decorate your table to celebrate the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. After studying their lives together, talk as a family about what you could include in the decorations that would remind you of them and their faithfulness to God. You may wish to include a centerpiece featuring an icon of them.
Find a printable icon of Sts. Peter and Paul on pg. 29 of this book: https://www.scribd.com/doc/14024263/Orthodox-Christian-Icon-Coloring-Book

Have a blessed feast!

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Learning About the Saints: The Three Holy Hierarchs (Jan. 30/Feb. 12)

In the Orthodox Church, we commemorate the Three Holy Hierarchs with a special feast every year. Who exactly are the Three Holy Hierarchs? They are St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. John Chrysostom. All three were very well educated, all three were great leaders of the Church in the fourth or fifth centuries, and all three have left behind a legacy of love for Christ/service to others that continues to challenge every generation of Christians.

Hundreds of years after these hierarchs departed this life, the 11th century Christians began to disagree as to which of these three men was the greatest. This disagreement led to division. Some Christians began calling themselves Basilians; others, Gregorians; and still others, Johannites. The Three Hierarchs did not like to see their fellow Christians divided in this way, so by the grace of God, they appeared together to Bishop John Mauropos, a monk serving in Euchaita (in Asia Minor). They told him that none of them was greater before God than the other. They also asked that they all be celebrated together on the same day, as a reminder of this. Bishop John, following the saints’ instructions, wrote a service to commemorate the Three Holy Hierarchs, and he selected January 30 (Feb. 12) as the day to celebrate all three of them.

Read more about the Three Holy Hierarchs, and find a personal challenge for each of us from their lives, in this blog post about them: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/learning-about-the-saints-the-three-holy-hierarchs-january-30/

The three most great luminaries of the Three-Sun Divinity have illumined all of the world with the rays of doctrines divine and true; they are the sweetly-flowing rivers of wisdom, who with godly knowledge have watered all creation in clear and mighty streams: The great and sacred Basil, and the Theologian, wise Gregory, together with the renowned John, the famed Chrysostom of golden speech. Let us all who love their divinely-wise words come together, honoring them with hymns; for ceaselessly they offer entreaty for us to the Trinity.

Here are some links that you may find helpful as your family learns about the Three Holy Hierarchs together:
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Read more about the three holy heirarchs here: http://www.wenorthodox.com/three-hierarchs/ or here http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2010/01/feast-of-three-hierarchs-sts-basil.html

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Find more information about the feast of the Three Holy Hierarchs here: http://www.goarch.org/special/threehierarchs/index_html

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Share this book about the Three Holy Hierarchs with younger children: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Paterikon-for-Kids-11-20/20-Paterikon-for-Kids-The-Three-Hierarchs/flypage-ask.tpl.html

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Print this icon for your children to color, or for use in another feast-related craft project: http://www.orthodoxartsjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Three-Holy-Hierarchs-line-border.gif

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Be encouraged by these words from Metropolitan Tikhon, in his Jan. 30, 2105 homily on the Three Holy Hierarchs: “…the gentle, warm, and clear holiness and perfection of the Three Hierarchs [teaches] us, not oppressively but with peacefulness:

Not to give in to despair when we uncover the passions within our own hearts, but to slowly weed them out one by one; Not to be discouraged because we don’t seem to have control over our children and their behavior, but rather continually strive to love them and pray for them and not judge ourselves to be failures; Not to be overwhelmed when we find it difficult to live in a community, whether it is our family, our seminary or our parish, but to find hope in the examples of the great saints who give expression to true community.”

Read the entire homily here: http://www.svots.edu/metropolitan-tikhons-homily-feast-three-holy-hierarchs

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If you have a counted-cross-stitch fan in your family, you may want to know that this pattern to stitch the icon of the Three Holy Hierarchs is available: http://www.easterngiftshop.com/Item/IcCS3Hier

On the Feast of the Nativity (Dec. 25/Jan. 7)

On December 25/January 7 every year, we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. This day is an important one for humankind. For on this day the eternal God, who had deigned to take on human flesh in order to save us from the power of Death, is born into time and space. On this day we celebrate His birth to the Theotokos in a cave. We recognize Joseph’s obedience to God’s messengers in the midst of doubt. We remember the shepherds who were the first to know the Good News of His birth when the Angels of God announced it to them. Thus, “the least of these” were granted great mercy. We remember the Magi whose love for and intense study of creation revealed the Good News to them in a manner so convincing that they acted on it and traveled to a foreign land to pay homage to a King they’d never even heard of before. In them, “the wealthy” and “the foreigners” were granted great mercy as well. We recall how nature (for example, the star and the animals in the cave) proclaimed and honored His birth. We observe that Life can come from the depths of the earth, for in a cave our Lord was born, and again later, in a cave, humanity is born into life eternal when He conquers Death and rises from the dead.

It is likely that our children are already familiar with the story of this feast. Let us teach them where to find it in the Scriptures, in Luke chapter 2. As we read this passage aloud together, we find opportunities to discuss the things mentioned above. We can also take a look at the icon of the feast as we read. We can challenge our children to identify different parts of the scripture passage as they are found in the icon. We can talk with our children about the feast and its importance. Once we have established the importance of the day, we should take some time to discuss what we will do on the day of the feast, and together agree on how we can have our actions focus on celebrating the feast itself, not just bending to societal trends and expectations. This can be difficult, especially if we have established so many other Christmas lower-case-t-traditions in our family. Even a little step towards celebrating the feast is a step in the right direction, and will be worth the effort!

The feast will be upon us soon. Let us prepare and celebrate as we should. Blessed Nativity to you and your family!

Here are some ideas of ways to learn together about the Nativity Feast:

 

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Find descriptions of the icon of the Nativity at these links:
Click on parts of the icon  to read about them here: http://www.antiochian.org/icons-explained-nativity

See the icon and descriptions about each part of it here: http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/70/62/e2/7062e21a4c0a4cc5358ffe18586bf7fb.jpg

You may wish to create some Nativity icon ornaments to use at home or give as gifts. Here is one idea of a way to do so: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2011/11/christmas-orthodox-craft-ornaments.html

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Does your family have a Christmas tree? Have you talked together about how some of its symbolisms can point us to the true meaning of the Nativity Feast? In the feast’s pages in the book “Heaven Meets Earth,” there is a section dedicated to the many symbols of the Christmas tree. For example, “God’s light, symbolized by the lights sparkling all around the tree, reaches into the deepest, darkest crevices of our being.” (p. 20) If your family enjoys simple crafts, consider making paper Christmas trees. To make one, first accordian-fold a large green paper circle to make a “tree” shape. Then decorate it with markers, tiny paper icon “ornaments,” etc. Add two star stickers (back to back) at the top of the “tree.” Use a hole punch to punch holes from the fold side of each of the accordian folds of the tree. Set the tree over an led votive (many dollar stores sell them two to a pack) so that the tree can “light up.” When your tree(s) are finished, review again the symbolisms mentioned in the book, looking for each on your paper tree and your Christmas tree (if you have one).

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Keeping our focus (and our children’s focus) on Christ during the Nativity “season” is not always easy in today’s world. Find resources to help in this blog post: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/12/16/ideas-for-keeping-our-focus-on-the-nativity-of-christ/

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“Each Christmas we need to ask ourselves and our families what we should get Christ. It is His birthday after all.” ~ Melissa Tsongranis, in her article “What Shall We Offer?”, which pushes us to continue to think about how to keep Christ as the focus of our Nativity celebration. http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/family/articles/offering

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Find pins to many Nativity ideas here: https://www.pinterest.com/aodce/nativity/

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This zine can help us teach our children ages 12 and up about the Nativity of our Lord. http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/zines/nativityzine. There is a free parent guide featuring suggested ways to use it with children of different age levels; ideas for celebrating the twelve days of Christmas; and information about Christmas celebrations around the world, as well! http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/christmas_guide (You can also get a teachers’ guide to use with the zine, with these objectives: http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/resources/midhightextobjectives#For to Us)

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With older children, we can take time before the Nativity Feast’s vesperal service/Royal Hours to discuss the verses we will hear and/or chant. For example this one:

“O Christ what shall we offer You;
for our sake You appeared on earth as man?
Every creature made by You offers thanks to You.
The angels offer You a hymn; the heavens, a star;
the Magi, gifts; the shepherds, their wonder;
the earth, its cave; the wilderness, the manger:
and we offer You a Virgin Mother.
O pre-eternal God, have mercy on us.”


Find the rest of the vesperal service here: http://lit.royaldoors.net/. Watch your children during the service, to see their faces light up in  recognition when this verse that you have discussed is chanted in the service!

On the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple (Nov. 21 or Dec. 4)

On Nov. 21 (or Dec. 4) we celebrate the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. This feast celebrates the day when the Theotokos, still a child, went to the Temple. The background story to this event is pretty important:

Joachim and Anna were devout Jews who loved God very much. They lived on only a third of their income, tithing and giving away the rest. Yet they had no child. They promised God that they would give their child back to Him, if He would grant them one, and He blessed them with the gift of their daughter Mary.

When Mary was three years old, and finally weaned, Joachim and Anna did not forget their promise to God. They gathered young ladies with candles to walk with them, and all together walked to the Temple so that they could present Mary to God and give her back to Him. Many family and friends came along, as well, all carrying lit candles.

When they arrived at the Temple, Joachim and Anna lifted Mary up onto the first of the 15 steps that led up into the temple. As soon as she was on that step, she ran all the way up the rest of them. The High Priest at the time was Zachariah (who later became the father of St. John the Forerunner). Zachariah greeted Mary at the top of the steps, took her by the hand, and led her into the Temple. The Holy Spirit directed him as he led her not just into the Temple, but into the “Holy of Holies,” the most sacred part of the Temple (which was so holy that only the High Priest could go in there; and he could only go in once a year after much preparation and prayer!)!

The Most-holy Virgin lived in the Temple for many years. The angels fed her in the Holy of Holies. As long as they lived, Joachim and Anna came regularly to the Temple to visit their daughter. When they departed this life, she stayed on in the Temple until she was betrothed to Joseph.

The holiness that she acquired while in the Temple, along with her own piety and desire to follow God, prepared the Most-holy Virgin to become the new Temple, in which God Himself dwelt. Her willingness to come to the Temple with such joy is a notable part of the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple.

Most Holy Theotokos, intercede for our salvation!

Here are some resources and ideas for learning about the feast together as a family:
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Find the story of the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, along with its related hymns and an explanation of the details in the icon here: http://www.goarch.org/special/listen_learn_share/vmpresentation/index_html
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Listen to Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory’s explanation of the importance of the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos to the Temple in this podcast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9oOpQ9N24Z0

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This 5-minute video encourages each person watching it to prepare their hearts for the coming of Christ just as the Theotokos was prepared to receive Him when she entered and lived in the temple.The video shows icon after icon, as the narrator explains the Entrance of the Theotokos to the temple and its implications for us. Older children will benefit from watching it with you: https://youtu.be/VhuF_9JSz6s

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This blog post suggests two books that can be used to teach young children about the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. It also contains links to a printable lineart icon of the feast, as well as a craft idea that the family can do together.  http://www.charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.com/2009/11/entrance-of-theotokos-into-temple.html
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The Theotokos entered into the temple to prepare herself to become the living temple of God. We, too, are to become the living temple of God. After sharing the story of the Entrance of the Theotokos to the Temple, talk together about what she did and how we can do the same to prepare ourselves to receive Christ. (For example: 1. Her parents gave her to God. Has that happened in your family? How? 2. She went to the temple with her family. Do you do so as well? How often? 3. She ran into the temple because she was happy to be there. Are we happy when we go to church? etc.) (If you need inspiration before leading this family discussion, you may want to read this: http://www.saintspiridon.org/?p=658.)

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This blog post offers a glimpse into one family’s celebration of the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos to the Temple. We especially liked the idea of creating a timeline of icons of the Feast Days, and having the children create a brief description (or even a sketch, if they are not yet writing) to post on that timeline: http://illumination-learning.com/main/2015/02/16/feast-days-entrance-of-the-theotokos-into-the-temple/

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Print this foldable centerpiece about the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple on a piece of cardstock. As a family, work together to decorate and assemble it. Set it as the centerpiece of your dining room table, add it to your icon corner, or set it somewhere else where you will see it often and remember the feast. http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/assets/asset_manager/cacb8660b29bdc97f8e8283ff567634e.pdf

On the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross (Sept. 14 or 27)

The Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross celebrates not one, but two important (but very much related) events in the history of the Church. In this feast, we celebrate both the finding of the Cross by St. Helena in 326 and the return of the Cross to Constantinople (and then on to Jerusalem) in 628. Here is a short synopsis to refresh your memory:

Although the empress Helena was 79 years old, she left on a journey to Jerusalem to find the precious Cross in the year 325. She had never seen a basil plant before this time. Just outside of Jerusalem, she noticed this unusual plant (the basil) that was growing all over the ground. The unfamiliar plant’s appearance and its location caused her to suspect that this was a special place. She decided to have her men dig at that spot in search of the Cross. It turned out that she was right! Three crosses were found in the ground under the growing basil. All three were tested on a sick woman (and/or a dead man – traditions vary), who had no response to the two other crosses, but became immediately well after touching the Cross of Christ. Many, many people came into Jerusalem when they heard that the Cross had been found. The leaders of the Church held the Cross up high for all to see. The people responded by saying, “Lord have mercy!” again and again.

Soon thereafter, St. Helena had a church built at the site, and most of the Cross stayed in that church, with a small piece going back to Constantinople. And so it remained for many years. In 614, however, the Persians conquered Palestine and stole the Cross. A few years later, in 628, Emperor Heraclius and his men were able to recover the Cross after defeating the Persians. At that point, the Cross was returned to Jerusalem, to the Church of the Holy Resurrection.

We celebrate both the initial finding of the Cross and its recovery with this fasting feast. It may seem odd to celebrate a feast day by fasting. But we celebrate the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross with fasting because of what we are commemorating: the Cross on which our Lord suffered and died. A fast is the most appropriate celebration of that. As we celebrate, we should also be renewing our own determination to follow Him and live our Faith to the best of our ability, even though doing so may cause us to suffer. In this way, our fasting feast can help us to become the kind of Christian we are meant to be.

Oh Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance,

Granting to Thy people victory over all their enemies.

And by the power of Thy Cross

Preserving Thy Kingdom!

Blessed Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross!

 

Here are a few ideas of ways to learn about this feast and to celebrate it together as a family:

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For more background on the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, listen to Fr. Thomas Hopko (of blessed memory)’s podcast: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/the_universal_exaltation_of_the_precious_and_life-giving_cross

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Another excellent resource is this article on the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, complete with details of the reason for the feast, here: http://www.antiochian.org/feast-of-the-holy-cross

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Read this blog post with your children to help them understand the feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross: https://raisingorthodoxchristians.com/2015/08/24/elevation-of-the-holy-cross-september-14-part-1/

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Create your own set of clothespin people and small props to tell (and let your children retell) the story of the finding of the Precious Cross with this detailed tutorial: https://raisingorthodoxchristians.com/2015/09/04/elevation-of-the-cross-peg-dolls/

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Tuck this idea away for next spring, so you can be ready with your own fresh basil at next year’s Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross: http://illumination-learning.com/main/2015/04/20/traditions-planting-basil-for-the-elevation-of-the-holy-cross/

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Next time the feast occurs, you may want to print this pop-up centerpiece to help decorate your table for the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/assets/asset_manager/804f8cedc57699833cfee4824634a4b5.pdf

On the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos (Sept. 8 or 21)

The very first feast of the new Church year is the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, and it is a very good place to start! After all, the birth of the Theotokos is where many of the other feasts begin. In this feast, we celebrate the miracle which God worked in the lives of Sts. Joachim and Anna, who were His faithful servants, but were never blessed with a child. Childlessness was a hardship for them. They had reached old age and had borne no children! In those days, barrenness was considered punishment from God for sins, and thus everywhere they went, people could look at them and judge them as sinners simply because they had no child. In fact, when Joachim went to the Temple to make an offering, he was turned away by the High Priest because of his childlessness (remember, at that time it meant “apparent sinfulness”). It was at this point that Joachim went off to the hills to earnestly pray for a child.

Meanwhile, Anna was in Jerusalem at their home wondering where he was, while also praying for a child. While they were praying one day, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to each of them, telling them that their prayers had been heard, and they would be given a daughter whose name would be known through all the world. He told Joachim to go back to Jerusalem, and he told Anna to wait for Joachim at the Golden Gate. They both believed the angel and obeyed him. So when Joachim arrived back at Jerusalem, there was Anna, waiting for him at the Golden Gate! God kept His promise to them by allowing them to conceive the Theotokos.

So, why do we celebrate this feast? The Kontakion of the feast tells us why:
“By your nativity, most pure Virgin, Joachim and Anna are freed from barrenness, Adam and Eve from the corruption of death. And we, your people, freed from the guilt of sin, celebrate and sing to you: ‘The barren woman gives birth to the Theotokos, the nourisher of our Life.’” In other words, we are not just celebrating the miracle of Sts. Joachim and Anna’s release from barrenness. Through Mary, the child given to them, Christ was born. And through His birth, death, and resurrection, Adam and Eve were released from Hades; and we ourselves are set free from the guilt of our sin. So, why would we NOT celebrate this feast?!?

Below are some links that can help us learn more about the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos. Other links will help us teach our children about the feast so that we can better celebrate together.

Blessed Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos!

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“The icon and the feast… acknowledge a transition from barrenness to life. This was but another foreshadowing of what would be offered through Christ, the transformation from death to eternal life.” Read more about the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, including a brief explanation of the icon, here: http://www.goarch.org/special/listen_learn_share/vmnativity/index_html

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Find an explanation of the icon of the Nativity of the Theotokos, as well as a gallery of this icon as written by different iconographers, here: https://iconreader.wordpress.com/2011/09/08/the-nativity-of-the-theotokos-icon/
Together as a family, look at the different icons. In each, seek every detail mentioned in the explanation, and note how it is written in that icon. What can your family conclude about the consistency of icons written by different iconographers? What aspects of the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos are the most important, as demonstrated in all the icons? Talk together about how those aspects apply to your family: how do they change your life?

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Celebrate the birth of the Mother of God with lots of blue, the Theotokos’ color! On the Feast day, dress in blue; decorate the house with blue; eat a “blue” meal (including as many blue things as possible: maybe a salad with blue cheese, fruit salad or fruit pizza decorated with blueberries, blue jello, etc.); you get the idea! Find this and other fun ideas, as well as a printable wheel for all of the feast days here: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/nativity-theotokos-0

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Find a list of books to read together as well as a variety of activities to consider doing with the family, in celebration of the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, here: http://www.charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.com/2011/09/festal-learning-basket-nativity-of.html

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Families with very young children will want to take a look at the ideas of ways to celebrate the Nativity of the Theotokos mentioned in these blog posts: http://churchyearforchildren.blogspot.com/search/label/Nativity%20of%20the%20Theotokos

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Find a plethora of information, as well as thought provoking and inspirational encouragement related to the Nativity of the Theotokos in this wonderful book: http://store.ancientfaith.com/heaven-meets-earth

 

On the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos (August 15 or 28)

The final feast of the Church year is the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos. At this feast, we celebrate the “falling asleep” (dormition) of the Theotokos. The disciples were miraculously brought together with the Theotokos in Jerusalem, and they were with her when she fell asleep in the Lord. Only Thomas was not present for her falling asleep and her burial. When he arrived a few days later and they opened her tomb so that he could see her body for one last time, they discovered that it was no longer there! Our Lord had taken her body to Heaven, giving all of us hope of eternal life!

How do we explain this miracle to our children when we can barely wrap our own minds around it? Well, because it is a miracle, we can not explain it. However, perhaps we can offer a slightly similar concept. We can invite the children to think of their favorite toy (especially effective for this would be a particularly-favored “lovey” if there is one such toy in the family). Have them imagine parting with that favorite, and only receiving part of it back again. For example, “We all know how much Sophie loves Mr. Bun. He goes everywhere with her! Remember that time that she left Mr. Bun at the restaurant while we were on vacation and we had to drive all the way back to get him? Would Sophie like it if, when we went back, we only brought part of Mr. Bun with us and just left the rest of him there in the restaurant? No! Well, it’s a tiny bit like that, here. Our Lord really loved His mother, the Theotokos. Of course, she was not a toy, but she was favored by God because she lived such a holy life. When she departed this earthly life to go to Heaven, Our Lord took all of her – even her body – to Heaven, too! Now even her earthly body is with Him in Heaven!” Granted, there are many weaknesses in this comparison, but it is a starting place for discussion. We should continue, “The Dormition is a good reminder for us to live holy lives and love God as the Theotokos did! We also want to live in Heaven with Him when we depart this life!”

Here are links to resources that will help your family learn more about the Feast of the Dormition:

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Find a printable countdown coloring page to use during the Dormition Fast here: http://manymercies.blogspot.com/2015/07/dormition-fast-calendar-printable-and.html

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Consider assembling a countdown with candles to be burned daily during the Dormition Fast as shown here: http://craftyincoffeeland.blogspot.com/2013/08/dormition-fast.html?m=0. If you are so inclined, decorate them with symbols of the Theotokos as demonstrated here: http://www.sttheophanacademy.com/2011/07/sobering-time.html.

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This countdown craft includes a daily reading focusing on a different type of the Theotokos as described in scripture: https://craftycontemplative.com/2010/07/28/dormition-calendar-craft/

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Read about the Feast of the Dormition, learn more about the festal icon, and find the hymns of the feast in this blog post: http://www.goarch.org/special/listen_learn_share/dormition/index_html. Read more about the feast here https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-church-year/dormition-of-the-theotokos. Listen to this podcast on the theology of the feast, as explained by Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory, here:http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/dormition_of_the_theotokos

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“If we follow her example, our souls can become like hers and find everlasting rest in Christ’s hands.” (p. 59) Read more in the fascinating segment about the Feast of the Dormition in this book: http://store.ancientfaith.com/heaven-meets-earth

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Find printable resources that help children learn the names of the Theotokos, as well as a printable activity page related to the Dormition here: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2009/08/dormition-word-search.html

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Print a copy of this popup centerpiece. Feature it on your dining room table or in your prayer corner as you celebrate the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/assets/asset_manager/abbe11671878e0c8d20d278ea0ae08af.pdf

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If your parish celebrates the dormition with the blessing of flowers, consider doing what this mom suggests so that the children have a hand in preparing your bouquet(s): http://churchyearforchildren.blogspot.com/search/label/Dormition%20of%20the%20Theotokos

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This beautiful book tells the story of the Dormition of the Theotokos: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Paterikon-for-Kids-21-23-NEW/23-Paterikon-for-Kids-The-Dormition-of-the-Theotokos/flypage-ask.tpl.html. Listen to Dr. Chrissi Hart’s reading of the book here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/grapevine/the_dormition_of_the_theotokos1

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Some children will be fascinated by this miracle that happens annually (with very few exceptions) at the time of the Dormition of the Theotokos, on the Greek island of Cephalonia! It involves snakes and the icon of the Theotokos, and started when nuns prayed and asked the Theotokos to deliver them from pirates: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5Za9-uX4b8