Category Archives: Learning

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

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

Here is a brief summary and review of the book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Feeding the hungry (Matthew 25:35)

Clothing the naked (Matthew 25:36)

Giving to those in need (Deuteronomy 15:11)

Being a good servant (Matthew 25:21)

Praying for the world (James 5:16)

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

Talking less and listening more (James 1:19)

Entertaining angels (Hebrews 13:2)

Keeping ourselves pure (James 1:27)

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

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

The hidden treasure (Matthew 13:44)

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

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

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

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

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

On Pursuing the Virtues: an Introduction

Author’s note: During Great Lent Orthodox Christians focus more intently on becoming more godly and less self-centered. Because of this, Great Lent seems the best possible time to feature a series of articles on pursuing virtue. We will spend the next few weeks learning about virtues in order to better pursue them. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

In this series of blogs, we will focus on how we parents can work to acquire the virtues. We will focus on the seven capital virtues mentioned in the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians: humility, liberality, chastity, mildness, temperance, happiness, and diligence. As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to become more like God, or to grow in theosis, we must not only repent and actively turn away from the sins in our life, but we must also labor actively towards attaining the virtues. Each blog post will focus on one virtue and ways to work towards attaining that virtue.

We are purposefully choosing to focus these blog posts on ourselves, the parents, rather than on our children. This is an intentional choice. We parents are the models, the ones who should be best living a godly life in our family. Throughout the ages, the saints have spoken about this very thing:

“The spirit of faith and piety in the parents should be regarded as the most powerful means for the preservation, upbringing, and strengthening of the life of Grace in children.”~ St. Theophan the Recluse
“What saves and makes for good children is the life of the parents in the home. The parents need to devote themselves to the love of God. They need to become saints in the relation to their children. And the joy that will come to them, the Holiness that will visit them, will shower grace on their children.” ~ St. Porphyrios

Because we parents are responsible to lead godly lives before our children, and because godly lives are filled with virtue instead of sins, we will focus these blog posts on ways to actively seek the virtues. When we actively pursue the virtues we are not just running  away from evil: we are struggling towards something, towards virtues. Carole Buleza, director of the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education recently explained it like this: “We are made in God’s image and likeness. The image is like God’s stamp on us as a human person. It cannot be changed. The likeness, on the other hand, can change and grow. It is the potential to grow evermore godlike… Acquiring virtues [is] a way to grow evermore Godlike. The virtues are specific, [as are] the rungs on St. John Climacus’ ladder. We can choose one, and with prayer, proceed to discipline ourselves so as to acquire it. When our lives are not focused on a major struggle with evil, we need to struggle in the positive direction by seeking to attain the virtues. The saints tell us that suffering (or struggle) is a necessary component of theosis.”

So, fellow parents, let us learn together about the capital virtues. By the grace of God, let us focus in on at least one of them and struggle towards it with all of our heart. Let us lead our family by example, struggling against sin not just by fleeing/fighting our passions, but also by actively struggling towards virtues. By the grace and mercy of God, may we grow evermore like Him. And as we do so, may our children watch, learn, and follow.

This prayer of St. Ephrem will be a great aid to us in this struggle:

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, meekness of mind, patience and love to Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother, for blessed art thou unto ages of ages.  Amen.

Here are some links that will help us as we begin to think about obtaining the virtues in our life:
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The Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians  is available here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/a-pocket-prayer-book-for-orthodox-christians-vinyl-cover/ and is an excellent companion for any Orthodox Christian! It fits in a pocket or purse and contains prayers, thought-provoking information such as the capital virtues which we are working to attain, the entire Divine Liturgy, preparation for confession, and more. Some of the prayers in the book (but not the section on virtues, unfortunately) are also available online here: http://www.antiochian.org/orthodox-prayers

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“All the virtues are aspects of the one great virtue, the virtue of love. When a Christian acquires love, he has all the virtues. It is love that expels the prime cause of all the evils and all the passions from the psyche of man. This cause, according to the holy Fathers, is selfishness. All the evils within us spring from selfishness, which is a diseased love for one’s own self. This is the reason why our Church has asceticism. Without asceticism, there is no spiritual life, no struggle, and no progress. We obey, fast, keep vigil, labour with prostrations, and stand upright, all so that we may be cleansed of our passions.” Read this and more in this excellent article on theosis: http://www.greekorthodoxchurch.org/theosis_qualifications.html

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“Let us cleanse ourselves, brethren, with the queen of the virtues: for behold, she is come, bringing us a wealth of blessings. She quells the uprising of the passions, and reconciled sinners to the Master. Therefore let us welcome her with gladness, and cry aloud to Christ our God: O risen from the dead, who alone art free from sin, guard us uncondemned as we give thee glory.” (one of the Four Sichera at the Praises, Matins, Meatfare Sunday, as found here: http://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2015/02/16/four-stichera-at-the-praises-matins-meatfare-sunday-i-think-upon-that-day-and-hour-when-we-shall-all-stand-naked/)

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“The goal of the Christian life is not to resist temptation but to acquire virtue. We are called to seek the Kingdom of God, not just to avoid hell.”  (Mamalakis, “Parenting Towards the Kingdom”, page 168)

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“Christians, have we understood the great responsibility that we have taken on before God through baptism? Have we come to know that we must conduct ourselves as children of God, that we must align our will with the will of God, that we must remain free from sin, that we must love God with all our hearts and always patiently await union with Him? Have we thought about the fact that our heart should be so filled with love that it should overflow to our neighbor? Do we have the feeling that we must become holy and perfect, children of God and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven? We must struggle for this, so that we may not be shown unworthy and rejected. Let none of us lose our boldness, nor neglect our duties, nor be afraid of the difficulties of spiritual struggle. For we have God as a helper, who strengthens us in the difficult path of virtue.”
+ St. Nektarius of Aegina, The Path to Happiness, 2 http://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2014/09/15/st-nektarios-christians-have-we-understood-the-great-responsibility-that-we-have-taken/

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“Every Christian has the power to heal infirmities—not of others, but his own, and not of the body, but of the soul—that is, sins and sinful habits—and to cast out devils, rejecting evil thoughts sown by them, and extinguishing the excitement of passions enflamed by them…

“…But your job is to work upon yourself: for this you are chosen; the rest is in the hands of God. He who humbles himself shall be exalted.”
+ St. Theophan the Recluse, Thoughts for Each Day of the Year: According to the Daily Church Readings from the Word of God http://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2014/09/02/st-theophan-the-recluse-every-christian-is-chosen/

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This book is an excellent resource for helping parents to nurture the virtues in their children:

http://store.ancientfaith.com/walking-in-wonder-nurturing-christian-virtues-in-your-children/ Read a few excerpts here: http://www.antiochian.org/node/16620

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“A troubled mind and chaotic thoughts are the fruit of a disordered life, and these darken the soul. When passions are driven from the soul with the help of the virtues, and the curtain of passions is drawn back from the eyes of the mind, then the intellect can perceive the glory of the other world. The soul grows by means of the virtues; the mind is confirmed in the truth and becomes unshakable, girded for encountering and slaying every passion. Freedom from passions is brought about by crucifying both the intellect and the flesh. This makes a man capable of contemplating God. The intellect is crucified when unclean thoughts are driven out of it, and the body when passions are uprooted. A body given over to pleasure cannot be the abode of the knowledge of God. True knowledge i.e. the revelation of the mysteries – is attained by means of the virtues, and this is – the knowledge that saves.” – Saint Justin (Popovich) of Cheliye Monastery in Serbia

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“Sailors need to know when to use ballast or throw down the anchor, lest the ship sink and they drown. In like manner, the virtues enable us to respond correctly to those moments of life that are the moral equivalents to such conditions at sea. However, an ability to discern these moments and respond appropriately entails more than formal techniques of decision-making; just as successful sailing requires that one knows more than just the techniques of good navigation. As the latter requires a knowledge of and familiarity with the sea that cannot be taught in books but can only be learned from sea-faring itself, so the moral life requires that we also be virtuous. The virtues are not just the moral equivalent of techniques of good sailing; rather they are the way as well as the end of goodness and happiness.” from http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/art/awakening-the-moral-imagination-teaching-virtues-through-fairy-tales.html (written by an Orthodox author)

Gleanings from a Book: “In the Candle’s Glow” by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson

The picture book “In the Candle’s Glow” by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson captured my attention from the moment I saw it. The cover illustration radiates peace as the main character stands prayerfully, gently illumined by a row of candle flames dancing like fireflies as she prays. That juxtaposition of peace and joyful motion made me curious, anticipating what I would read within its pages.

When I slipped the book open, I was not disappointed. It starts with flowers and bees, all blowing and growing in the wind. The life of a candle actually begins in that place: in nature, beauty, wholeness, just as God created the world and meant it to be. Bees partake of that sweet beauty and do their own work of using it to create honey and wax to share with their hive. A pleasant-faced nun sings her way into the book, ready to collect both honey and beeswax, and next thing we know there are slender beeswax candles lying patiently in a church’s narthex awaiting their next job. At last the reader meets the young pray-er from the cover, who dances into the book with much enthusiasm. Once she arrives at the church doors, Felicia stills herself, signs herself with the cross, then prayerfully enters. She notices the color and aroma of the beeswax candles, recalling their history for a moment before selecting one and igniting it, initiating it to its next task: carrying prayers. Felicia quietly prays, and as she does, she sees her prayers hovering, illumined by the candle. She watches as a gentle breeze wafts through the window, carrying the smoke from her candle into the heavens. Her prayers ride along to meet the icon of Christ, which watches over Felicia and reminds her that Christ Himself receives her prayers!

Amandine Wanert’s playful illustrations bring to life the swaying flowers, buzzing bees, singing nun, and dancing Felicia in this story. They also illuminate the gentle glow of candles casting light and hope around the interior of an Orthodox church. Readers will relish the peace that they feel as they read their way from the gleeful buzz of sunny fields to the serenity of prayer in church.

Here are some ideas of ways to enhance and extend what we have learned in the book:

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After reading “In the Candle’s Glow,” learn together about bees. Find an excellent source of information about honeybees, including facts about bees and honey, the history of beekeeping, and many links and books that can give you more information here: http://www.buzzaboutbees.net/honey-bee-facts.html

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There are a host of reasons to love bees and how they help our world! Check out the information and links provided here: http://www.buzzaboutbees.net/Inspiring-Children-To-Love-Bees.html

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“Visit” a bee farm with this family to learn more about bees and what they do: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCVR1MNgm6A

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In gratitude for the gifts of honey, pollination, and beeswax that we receive from bees, together as a family investigate what flowers bees like that you could grow at your home. Here is one possible resource: http://thehoneybeeconservancy.org/act-today/plant-a-bee-garden/.  Then plant a little “Bee Gratitude” garden for them to enjoy. You may want to pray the prayer of blessing for the bees found near the end of “In the Candle’s Glow.” (And if you’re feeling especially grateful, you could also put in a beehive!)

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Did you know that beeswax candles are better for your health than paraffin ones? Pure beeswax candles are not made with petroleum and chemicals (as paraffin ones are) and instead of adding pollutants like artificial scents into the air, they actually purify it while  they burn! Read more about the health benefits of beeswax candles here: http://candles.lovetoknow.com/Beeswax_Candle_Health_Benefits

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Why do we light candles when we pray? Talk together as a family about that question. http://www.stmattroyalton.org/About-Orthodoxy/Candles-and-Their-Symbolism suggests this reason: “Orthodox faithful light candles before the Icons as a sign of their faith and hope in God’s help that is always sent to all who turn to Him and His Saints with faith and prayers. The candle is also a symbol of our burning and grateful love for God.”

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Learn more about St. Zosima and St. Savvaty, keepers of bees, here: https://www.facebook.com/Historical.Honeybee.Articles/posts/822731504448014

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One evening after reading “In the Candle’s Glow,” take a moment to quietly approach your family’s prayer table so that you can think about/experience what Felicia experienced. (Before you do this, be sure to acquire a few beeswax candles for this prayer time: one for each family member, if possible.) As you approach the table, talk softly about what you learned in the book about the flowers, the bees, the beeswax, the nun, and the candles. Then have each family member hold a beeswax candle in their hands and smell it. Think about all of the parts of God’s creation that have happened so that that candle can be in your hand at this moment. All of creation helps us to pray and to worship God! Then light your candle and, just as Felicia did when she lit hers, pray the Jesus Prayer. Quietly watch the flame and think about the words you are saying as you pray the Lord’s Prayer. Then take turns “adding others into” your flame as you pray for your loved ones. When everyone has had all the turns that they need to pray for whoever they want to, talk about how our prayers rise to God. You may want to simultaneously demonstrate how heat from the candle rises, as shown in this simple experiment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cOMushj7w8. Encourage each other to remember that all of creation is here to help us worship God, and that our prayers rise to Him as we offer them in the candles’ glow.

Gleanings from a Book: “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis

I was so excited when I learned that this book was in the works! Before reading it, I had great expectations: I anticipated that it would be filled with gentle nudges towards godliness based both on years of education and personal experience. I knew that the wisdom in this book would be presented in a practical way backed by the in-the-trenches research that life with 7 children offers to their parents. And once I received and read the book, I was not at all disappointed!

My expectations for this book were the result of personal experience. Our family had the privilege of meeting the Mamalakis family at Family Camp at the Antiochian Village years ago when they were the featured presenters for the parent sessions. We learned so much from Dr. Mamalakis (and from his lovely wife, Georgia) while we were together. My husband and I could step out of the parent sessions and immediately apply the concepts we had just discussed. Our family is the better for having learned these principles, however imperfectly we have applied them. (An aside: We also benefitted from watching the Mamalakis parents apply the principles they had shared, as they interacted with their children over the course of the family camp sessions. It is a joy to watch these parents lovingly guide their children using the principles! There is an abundance of love in Mamalakis family, and these principles allow them to parent their children in the context of that great love. It is a joy to experience.)
But I digress. Let’s get back to the book. “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” outlines the principles that the Mamalakis family has followed:

  1. Always parent with the end in mind.
  2. Respond, don’t react.
  3. Understand struggles in terms of the values and the virtues of the Kingdom of God.
  4. Separate feelings from behaviors.
  5. Teach the joy of obedience.
  6. Teach the joy of repentance.

Each principle has a chapter (or four!) of the book dedicated to it. Every chapter takes an in-depth look at the principle and cites personal experiences or related stories. The stories and examples make this book very accessible to its readers. The principles can be immediately applied, just as my husband and I experienced when we sat under the Mamalakis’ teachings at Family Camp. I would highly recommend this book to any parent or educator who wants to lovingly guide the children in their care in a godly manner. The book would be a great Adult Sunday Church School curriculum, parish book study, or parenting class text.

“Parenting Toward the Kingdom” is easy read. However, its principles will take a lifetime to apply. May God help (and forgive!) all of us as we parent, grandparent, godparent, and otherwise raise His children towards His Kingdom!

Here are a few quotes from the book, to give you a taste of its contents. Purchase your own copy at http://store.ancientfaith.com/parenting-toward-the-kingdom/.

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“Parenting cannot be reduced to a series of steps, techniques, or strategies. The goal of this book is to help parents understand how the daily challenges of parenting relate to our journey in Christ and  our child’s journey in Christ, intimately connected to the life of the Church, and how that connection can inform our responses. Understanding this, we can put all the techniques and strategies in this book in their proper context. Using this book requires that you take a genuine interest in your child and reflect on your own personal spiritual journey. Understanding this, we can put this book in its proper place.” (pp. 12-13)

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“Thinking long-term means thinking about how  you want your children to conduct themselves when they are on their own, away at college, or married with children of their own. What type of adults do you want them to become… As parents… we want our children to be successful in life. As Christian parents, we need to be clear about what we mean by successful. That’s where God’s perspective on success becomes important.” (p. 19)

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“Parenting is not about stopping misbehaviors or getting children to listen to us. It is the process of shaping and guiding our children’s souls in and toward God’s love through the tasks that need to be accomplished and the struggles of daily life. We are teaching them about the spiritual life and the path of holiness as we break up sibling fights or get them to clean their rooms. We are walking with them on that path, on the journey, of growing closer to God in daily life.” (p. 24)

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“We would never deface an icon, yet when we get angry, attack, criticize, or mock our children, we vandalize the icon of Christ. We don’t worship icons, either, yet when we are lenient or indulge our children’s desires, giving in to their demands, we are worshipping our kids, not Christ—which is equally destructive.” (p. 36-37)

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“Learning how to parent is not about learning how to get our children to behave; it’s about learning how to get ourselves to behave. Remember, modeling is the most effective way to teach our children. The goal of this parenting book is to invite parents how to learn to act like adults, no matter what childish behaviors our kids present to us.” (p. 51)

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“While some children act up because they want everyone to look at them, I’d like to suggest that most often our kids are looking for a connection with their parents, not for mere attention… Connection is central to our human nature, and children are wired to seek it.” (p. 66)

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“If we correct, command, direct, or react to our children before connecting with them, it communicates that we are more concerned about where cleats and balls go than about who they are.” (p.165)

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“Time-outs are most often misused as consequences by parents… A time-out is not a consequence, just a good idea. It is, in fact, exactly what a child might need at that moment… Sports teams don’t take time-outs as punishment but as an opportunity to slow down, regroup, and make a plan for going forward… Kids need time-outs when they cannot control themselves or their behaviors. In fact, taking a time-out is something we all need to learn to do when we feel out of control.” (p. 210)

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“Never make decisions for your children or tell them what to do when they can figure things out by themselves. Letting children experience the effects of their decisions respects their intelligence, their ability to learn, and their developing judgment and autonomy. Kids learn better from firsthand experience than from our telling them what to do, anyway.” (p. 227)

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“We teach the joy of obedience by helping our children see that obedience is not something just for children. Obedience to God’s commandments is the path for all, parents and children alike… When children feel connected to their parents and see their parents living in obedience to God, they internalize obedience to God as the path of life.” (p. 264)

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“If we are trying to love our children and grow in Christ, then our mistakes become just another opportunity to teach. Remember, our children will learn ore from how we live than from what we say. Children learn how to handle their mistakes by watching how we handle our own… When we repent we show our children both the right path and how to get back on the path when we fall off.” (p. 288)

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“To parent toward the Kingdom requires us to improve the way we interact with our children in every situation and to connect our hearts and homes to Christ and His Church. In this way our children experience the love of God in the home and encounter Christ and His Church in the center of it.” (p. 317)

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

Through the Eyes of a Young Reader: “Queen Abigail the Wise” by Grace Brooks

You may remember the blog post we published about the recently-published Orthodox children’s book, “Queen Abigail the Wise,” by Grace Brooks. Our blog post was published in May 2015. (If you did not get a chance to read the blog before, find it here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/05/25/gleanings-from-a-book-queen-abigail-the-wise-by-grace-brooks/.

We are in the new calendar year, which means that Great Lent is not too far off. The entire story of “Queen Abigail the Wise” takes place during Great Lent. We are revisiting the book in this blog post for two reasons. First and foremost refers to my statement in the first blog post about the book, “I must share this book with my 10-year-old goddaughter.” I did exactly that, and gave my then-10-year-old goddaughter Hope her own copy to read. After she read the book, we got together and talked about it. I thought you may be interested to hear Hope’s perspective on the book, not just mine, so here it is! (Mind you, there are spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book yet, don’t say we didn’t warn you about them!)

When Hope and I got together to discuss this book, I came with a series of questions for her. I tried to think of questions that would help “grownups” have a sense of how relative and enjoyable the book is for a young Orthodox Christian. (As you may have read in the prior blog post, the book is geared to children, but I found it to be uplifting even though I am an adult. I thought it was a great book, and I was pretty sure that Hope would like it. The older I get, though, the more I realize that what I think is nice for a person of a certain age may not necessarily sit as well with them as I thought it would. So I wanted to test this in-my-opinion-wonderful book with Hope to get her opinion of it. Here it is.)

The first question I asked Hope was whether or not she liked “Queen Abigail the Wise.” I was rewarded with the anticipated resounding “Yes!” and a huge smile on her face. Curious, I asked why, and she said, “I liked how [Abigail] had to do something to get something.” and “I like that she figured out that the young priest was the the iconographer by the end of the story.” (Remember, I already warned you that there are spoilers!)

I went on to ask Hope if there were parts of the book that she could relate to, and she said “Yes…” So I asked her which parts of the story she could relate to. She said, “Well, sometimes I get bored in church, too…” and went on to explain that she can understand how that felt to Abigail. She also said that she could relate to Abigail’s feelings at Pascha, when Abigail felt hot and cramped. Hope said that, like Abigail, she’s also not a crowd person and also, she is not hungry when she’s tired — just like Abigail.

Hope named Abigail as her favorite character in the book when asked, because, “I liked how she didn’t want to give up; and she felt bummed about missing church. I do that too sometimes. I also liked how she was willing to work hard and help others because she wanted the icon so badly.”

I couldn’t just ask about a favorite character, so I wondered aloud if Hope had a least favorite character? She said, “Well, at the beginning probably Vanessa because she seems snobby but I changed my opinion at the end. I could also say baby Jacob but he did play an important role.” (Again, spoilers! Well, almost…)

Although “Queen Abigail the Wise” is a chapter book, it contain a few illustrations. I am a visual person and love pictures, so I was delighted with the sketches: I found them charming. But, as mentioned above, I wondered if my personal theory fit with the actual practice and thus, how the illustrations would sit with a young lady of her age. So, I asked Hope if the illustrations added to the story. She said, “Yes, I like to have visuals!” (Like godmother, like goddaughter, I suppose!) But she mentioned that she wished for color, not just blackline illustrations. (I suggested that since the book is her very own, she could go through and color any illustrations that she wanted to, if she wished. A few weeks later, she came to church with her book and showed me that she had colored part of it with colored pencils! It was beautiful.)

I then asked an all-encompassing question about the theme of the book. I wondered what Hope thinks that the author, Grace Brooks, was trying to say with this story. What does Hope think is the book’s message? She give me two excellent answers: “If you set your mind to something and if you work hard you can achieve it… And no matter how much you dislike something or someone, in the end you may find that you actually love them.” Both answers were insightful. Sage words, coming from a 10-year-old.

I asked Hope if she had a favorite part of “Queen Abigail the Wise.” She answered, “The end, when Abigail gets her icon… And the way she describes the icon was pretty, too.”  I asked her if she would recommend this story to others, and she answered,”Yes!” She went on to say, “I would recommend it especially to those new to the Orthodox faith.”

Hope could not think of any part of the story that she did not like. Rather, she liked the book so much that sometimes she stayed up reading it past her bedtime! She was reading it in summer, so she could lie in bed reading until it got too dark outside to read by the snatches of light shining through her window. She got in trouble for doing so (oops!), but she really liked the book, and that’s what she does when she likes a book. (Again, like godmother, like goddaughter!)

So, as I had expected, Hope liked the book. She could relate to the characters and enjoyed learning along with them. Her experience with the story was similar to mine, and I am glad. But you’ll recall that I mentioned two reasons for this blog post, and you may be wondering about the second.

Well, the second reason I am posting about this book right now is all about timing. In a matter of weeks we will be in Great Lent again! You may want to get this book to share with an Orthodox youngster of your own, so that he/she can read it during Great Lent this year! Or perhaps you personally want to follow the related blog posts as the weeks go by: they are very challenging and encouraging for Orthodox Christians of any age! Or maybe you just want to read the book yourself, for your own growth. We’re sharing this blog post now because both Hope and I want to give you plenty of time so that you can do any (or all!) of the above!

Taking one final glimpse at my interview with Hope, my final question for her was whether or not she would be willing to read a sequel when it comes out? She answered with a resounding, “YES!.” So now there are TWO of us eagerly anticipating the second book in the “Every Tuesday Girls Club!” Our guess is that if you and/or your young Orthodox friends get a chance to read “Queen Abigail the Wise,” you will feel the same way. We certainly hope so!

Here are some important links related to the book:

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Purchase “Queen Abigail the Wise” by Grace Brooks, either for yourself or for young friends, here: https://www.amazon.com/Queen-Abigail-Wise-Grace-Brooks/dp/1518600115/  
There is also an ebook available. (But you can’t color in the illustrations of an ebook with colored pencil!)

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Meet all the girls in the “Every Tuesday Girls Club” at the Queen Abigail website: http://queenabigail.com/

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According to this blog post by “Queen Abigail the Wise” author Grace Brooks, http://queenabigail.com/2016/11/27/december-news-with-queen-abigail/, the second book in the series will be available soon! This one is called “Vanessa the Wonderworker!”

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Follow along on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/QueenAbigailtheWise/ for a variety of interesting posts including fresh creations by “Queen Abigail the Wise” author Grace Brooks, new blog posts that she writes, and other interesting things that she finds online and shares which are enjoyable to children and adults alike!

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Consider reading your way through “Queen Abigail the Wise” bit by bit, meditating on these wonderful blog posts by author Grace Brooks. http://queenabigail.com/2016/07/20/reading-through-queen-abigail-with-me/ Perhaps you can do this with a young friend, or even an entire Sunday Church School Class, throughout the course of Great Lent. Consider using these “Abigail” notebooks to document your learning along the way: http://www.cafepress.com/+queen_abigail_the_wise_journal,1908228623!

Learning from the Saints: St. Nina (January 14/27)

Late in the 3rd century, in Cappadocia (central modern-day Turkey), a young girl was born to a Roman army chief named Zabulon, and his wife Sosana (who was the sister of Patriarch Juvenal of Jerusalem). This girl was named Nina (or Nino, as she is called in the Republic of Georgia). Nina and her parents were well off, but decided to sell everything when Nina was 12 and go to Jerusalem to live in the Holy City. Soon after they arrived there, Zabulon was tonsured a monk and went to live in a monastery in the desert, Sosana became a deaconess and helped her brother the patriarch serve the poor of Jerusalem. Nina went to live with a godly woman named Nianfora, who continued to teach her to love and follow God through His Church.

When Nina was 14, she began to wonder about Our Lord’s robe and whatever happened to it. She asked Nianfora how something so precious could just be lost for hundreds of years? Nianfora answered that it was somewhere in Iberia (now Georgia) because it had traveled there after the soldier won the robe with the dice toss at the cross. Nina was very pious and thought that this holy item that had belonged to Our Lord should not be lost and forgotten, so she began to pray, asking the Mother of God to make a way for her to go. One night she had a dream in which the Theotokos blessed her with a cross made of grapevines tied together with hair. The Theotokos told Nina that the cross would be her protection as she traveled to Iberia. When Nina woke up, she was still holding the cross in her hand! She kept that grapevine cross with her for the rest of her life. Soon after this dream, Nina set out to find Christ’s robe with the blessing of her uncle, the patriarch.

Nina traveled first to Rome. While she was there, she met Princess Ripsimia and her teacher Gaiana, and let them to the Faith. The emperor at that time was Diocletian, who was persecuting Christians. Diocletian wanted to marry Princess Ripsimia because she was so beautiful, but she and Gaiana and Nina (and 50 other young ladies) ran away to spare their lives because they were Christians. They escaped safely to Armenia. Unfortunately, Diocletian was so angry he had sent soldiers to follow the young ladies (and to warn King Tiridat of Armenia about them). When the now-warned King Tiridat saw the beautiful Princess Ripsimia, he wanted to marry her! When she refused, he killed her, Gaiana, and the other 50 young ladies with them. Nina narrowly escaped this martyrdom by hiding in some rosebushes.

Alone, Nina continued her journey to Iberia. When she first arrived in Iberia, she befriended some shepherds who gave her food and helped her know where to go to find their capital city of Mtskheta. Along the way, Nina was very discouraged. She began to wonder why she was doing what she was doing. One night as she slept, she had a dream. In her dream, a heavenly visitor appeared to her and gave her a scroll. When she woke up, Nina still had the scroll in her hand. She could even read the scroll: it was written in Greek! It was full of scripture verses which encouraged her to continue on her journey so that she could help others learn more about Christ and His Church. This gave Nina the strength that she needed to continue her journey, and she made it to Mtskheta.

Soon after her arrival in Mtskheta, Nina was saddened to watch a ceremony where the people of Iberia were gathered to worship idols covered in metal. The people shook before the idols as their priests prepared sacrifices for the ceremony. Nina was so sad that she began to pray hard and loudly for the people, that God would enlighten them and show them that He is the true God. Suddenly, a storm came up and all the people had to take cover! Lightning destroyed the idols, crumbling them to nothing. The rain washed away the crumbled pieces. Nina had taken cover in the cleft of a rock, so she was safe, but she saw the whole thing happen. After the idols were washed away, the sun shone once again, and the people came looking for their idols. Of course they found no trace of them. This made the Iberian king wonder if there is another God greater than the gods that they worshiped.

Nina was welcomed into the palace garden by the gardener and his wife, who allowed her to live in a corner of the garden (some sources say in a hut; others say under a bramble). The couple was unable to have children, but Nina prayed for them, and God blessed them with many children after that! They became Christians, and so did many others in the land, as Nina prayed for them and told them about Christ. She became well known because of her godliness and her kindness. God worked other miracles through her prayers as well. For example, once a mother was carrying her dying son through the city, begging for help so that he would not die. St. Nina took the boy, laid him down on her leaf bed, and prayed for him. As she prayed, she touched him with her grapevine cross, and he was healed!

Nina preached even to the Jewish people of Iberia. Interestingly enough, it was through the Iberian Jewish High Priest (who converted to Christianity as well through the teaching of Nina) that she learned about the one thing that she had come to Iberia to find in the first place: the robe of Christ! He told her the story of his great-grandfather Elioz, who had gone to Jerusalem to witness Christ’s death (His death was considered by the Jewish people to be a victory for their nation, so invitations were sent out prior to its happening). Elioz’s mother had warned him not to ally himself with those who killed Christ, because she knew that He was the fulfillment of the Jewish prophecies! Elioz went to Jerusalem and was present at the crucifixion, and managed to get Christ’s robe from the soldier who had won it. He brought it back to Mtskheta, where he found out that his mother had died around the time that Christ did (after feeling in her heart the pounding of the nails as they were pounded into Our Lord and proclaiming that she sensed that He had been killed). Elioz’s sister Sidonia took the robe of Christ when she saw it in his hands, and began to venerate it with kisses. She hugged it to herself and immediately died! Elioz tried to pull the robe from her grasp but was completely unable to do so. He felt afraid about what could happen to the robe at that point, so he secretly buried her, still clinging to the robe, in an undisclosed location. Some say it was in the middle of the palace garden in Mtskheta, where a cedar tree suddenly grew, but no one knows for sure.

When Nina learned this, she was still uncertain of the actual location of the robe of Christ, but began to pray at that cedar tree in the middle of the royal garden in case the robe was truly under there. One night after her prayers, Nina saw many black birds perch in the cedar’s branches. They flew from there to the river, bathed, and came back as white as snow! The now-white birds sat in the cedars branches and sang beautifully. God revealed to Nina that this was to help her to realize that the people of Iberia would come to know Him, be baptized, and continue their lives cleansed of sins. It encouraged her to keep telling all the people around her about Christ, and to pray for them and for their salvation.

The queen of Iberia, Queen Nana, who did not like Christians and worshiped false gods like the Roman goddess Venus, became sick around this time. She went to doctors, but just got worse and worse. It looked like she would die. Although she did not like Christians, Queen Nana had heard that Nina could heal people through her prayers. She commanded that Nina be brought to her. Nina replied that if she wanted to be healed, the Queen would need to come to her humble dwelling instead. The queen was desperate and so she humbled herself and they carried her to Nina’s little living space, where her servants laid the queen on Nina’s bed of leaves. Nina prayed for her, and touched her head, feet, and shoulders with the grapevine cross. As soon as Nina finished making the sign of the cross over Queen Nana in this way, the queen was completely well. She was so grateful to be healed that she stopped worshipping idols and became a Christian instead. Queen Nana and Nina became close friends.

The king of Iberia, King Mirian, was not happy that his queen converted to Christianity. He was ready to have all of the Christians in Iberia killed, even though that meant that his own wife would die. While he was thinking of this plan, he went out hunting on a beautiful day. As he hunted, suddenly a dark cloud came up where he was. It was so dark that the king could not see! Winds began to blow, lightning was all around, and it was all very similar to the frightening storm that hit back when Nina first came to Iberia and the idols had been destroyed. All of the king’s hunting companions left him because they were afraid. Alone, King Mirian cried out to his gods to save him. The storm got worse, and of course the gods did nothing. Finally, King Mirian cried out to the God of Nina, asking Him to save him from this storm and promising to follow God if He did. At that moment, the storm stopped, and the sun shone! King Mirian returned to the city, found Nina and told her of his experience and his promise, which he kept. And that is how the  Light of Christ entered into King Mirian’s life and the lives of his people as well. His joy at his conversion led the king to build many churches to help his people to be better Christians.

After the king’s conversion, Nina continued to preach and teach about Christ to the Iberian people. Her hard work, and the cooperation of the people around her, established Christianity firmly in that part of the world. (Even today, 82 % of the people of the nation of Georgia are practicing Orthodox Christians!)

Nina reposed in the Lord in the early 4th century, in the village of Bodbe, in what is now eastern Georgia. King Mirian had a church built at the site of her repose. Her body is buried there.

O handmaid of the Word of God,

Who in preaching hast equaled the first-called Apostle Andrew,
And hast emulated the other Apostles;
O enlightener of Iberia and reed-pipe of the Holy Spirit,
Holy Nino, equal to the Apostles:
Pray to Christ God to save our souls!
(troparion to St. Nina, in tone 4)

Sources:

http://www.antiochian.org/node/17330

https://oca.org/saints/lives/2013/01/14/100191-st-nino-nina-equal-of-the-apostles-and-enlightener-of-georgia

http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/67914.htm

http://www.stnina.org/st-nina/life-st-nina-karen-rae-keck

Here are additional sources that can help us learn and teach about St. Nina:

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This picture book is a great way to help younger children learn about the life of St. Nina: http://www.stnectariospress.com/the-life-of-saint-nina-equal-to-the-apostles/

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Share this 8-minute video about the life of St. Nina with middle-years children: http://trisagionfilms.com/project/life-st-nina-enlightener-georgia/

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This book full of saint stories includes the story of St. Nina: http://www.stspress.com/shop/books/livesofsaints-holypeople/childs-paradise-of-saints-a/

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Create a grapevine cross together to help you remember St. Nina. First, procure some grapevine (from your own plants, or a friend’s, or from a craft store or nursery). Cut sticks of two different lengths and use strands of embroidery floss “hair” to tie them into a cross. Your cross can be small, made of just two grapevine twigs, or large, crafted from multiple strands of each size: it is up to you and your family! Place the cross where it will remind you to be faithful to God and to trust Him as St. Nina did. (Here’s a blog post that can give you an idea of how to tie the cross together. The cross in the blog is made with twigs from a tree, but would apply to grapevine as well: http://www.gratefulprayerthankfulheart.com/2012/04/little-wooden-cross-from-sticks.html)

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Together as a family, study the Republic of Georgia. (Check a book about the country out of the library, or look online for informational sites like this one: http://www.ducksters.com/geography/country.php?country=Georgia, or this one http://www.encyclopedia.com/places/commonwealth-independent-states-and-baltic-nations/cis-and-baltic-political-geography-24) Where is the Republic of Georgia located? Would you like to visit? Decide whether or not St. Nina had a huge impact on the country by just looking at its flag! Then cook something from Georgia and enjoy it together! (For example, this cheese bread looks delicious: http://www.food.com/recipe/georgian-cheese-bread-308047, as do all of these desserts:http://georgiastartshere.com/top-10-georgian-desserts/! For more recipes, see https://georgianrecipes.net/tag/republic-of-georgia/)

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Study the Gospel verses that were written on the scroll miraculously given to St. Nina in her dream when she was feeling most discouraged about her journey. Here they are:

“Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her. (Matt.26:13).
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal.3:28).
“Then said Jesus unto them (the women), Be not afraid: go tell my brethren… (Matt.28:10).
He that receives you receives me, and he that receives me receives him that sent me (Matt.10:40).
“For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist (Luke 21:15).
“And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take no thought how or what thing you shall answer, or what you shall say: for the Holy Spirit shall teach you in the same hour what you ought to say (Luke 12:11-12).
“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul… (Matt.10:28).
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (Matt.28:19-20).”

After reading the scriptures together, talk about how these words must have encouraged Nina. Do any of them stand out to encourage you? Select one (or several) to write on a chalkboard or whiteboard in your home, so that it can continue to encourage you. Or print it out in a readable font, have your children decorate the edges of the paper, then frame it and hang it up in your home.