Category Archives: Orthodox Family Life

Preparing to Begin Great Lent

Great Lent is coming soon! Every year, Great Lent is a joyful time of opening our hearts more fully to Christ, as we prepare to celebrate His resurrection. It offers us a wonderful opportunity to evaluate our Christian life and begin to implement changes that enable us to better love God and our fellow humans. We have gathered a handful of resources that may be helpful to you and the children in your care. Here are some of the resources that we have gathered, beginning with part of a helpful article by Ann Marie Gidus-Mercera, called “Ways to Share Great Lent and Pascha with Your Child,” from Orthodox Family Life, printed in 1997. (Used by permission.)

Take your child to Church!

Whenever a service is scheduled, plan to attend. Services like The Canon of St. Andrew of Crete may be physically tiring with the many prostrations, but don’t think your child can’t be a part of them. In my own parish, which is filled with pre-schoolers, the children do a great job of making prostrations right along with the adults. Many of the children will join in as “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me” is sung. This experience is good for our children! If they see their parents attending services, they get the message that attending Church is important. If we bring our children to Church with us (both young and old), they get the message that their presence in Church is important. The Canon of St. Andrew of Crete is especially good for teaching our children that we worship with our entire bodies.

Explain the service that your family will be attending.

Notice that the word “family” is used in the first sentence. Now is a good time to stress that the entire family should be attending services. My husband can’t make it home from work in time for all of us to get to services together, but he always meets us at Church. This tells our children that Church is important enough for Daddy to meet us there. As children get older, homework and after-school activities may tempt them (and us!) to skip Church services. Don’t let it! First of all, if we give in, then what we’re really telling them is that worldly affairs are more important than spiritual affairs. By allowing our children to miss Church, we make it extremely easy for them to fall away as teenagers or young adults.

Last of all, if we allow our older children to miss Church, we are telling our younger children that Church is not important when they get to be big sister or big brother’s age. Enforcing Church attendance by the entire family is no easy task. In fact, enforcing it may be one of the hardest jobs you encounter. Sticking to your rule will be even tougher. It’s a choice we must make as Orthodox parents. Maybe it makes our task easier if we ask ourselves, “What would God want us to do?” The answer is obvious.

Prepare your child for Lent.

The weeks prior to Lent help us take on the right frame of mind for entering Lent. Let them do the same for your child. Read the stories and let your child color [or draw] the pictures prior to attending the Sunday services. You may want to read the story again on Saturday evening, or let your child take the color sheet to Church. A simple reminder Sunday morning concerning what the service and gospel reading will contain can be enough. Pre-schoolers have the ability to remember even the briefest of comments (even when it’s something we DON’T want them to remember!) Keep your explanation simple and BRIEF in order to hold his/her attention. Don’t try to go into a long and draw-out explanation or s/he will lose interest. If s/he has questions or comments, answer them briefly.

Don’t feel mountains have to be moved the day Lent begins, or even during Lent.

It might be a quiet, even uneventful day. That’s okay! Nothing magical needs to happen. We must only be ready to give our hearts to Christ, and we should gladly hand them over in an effort to be a good example to our children. This is our greatest task as Orthodox Christian parents.

Here are some additional resources that you may find helpful: 

Here is a printable Lenten-focused activity calendar, highlighting important days during Great Lent. This pdf features daily suggestions of activities that families can do together, with the goal of engendering a more Christ-centered life during the Lenten fast. Find the calendar here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.files.wordpress.com/2023/02/updated_great-lent-and-holy-week-activity-calendar.pdf

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Find lessons and activity ideas that can be helpful for families or Church school teachers during all of Great Lent here: https://orthodoxpebbles.com/orthodox-basics/great-lent/

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With this free printable page, children can create a “Lenten Treasure Chest” that they can fill throughout Great Lent with “coins” of REAL value: https://moam.info/lenten-treasure-chest-annunciation-greek-orthodox-church_59cdc1d31723ddf9655ed9fe.html 

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This blog offers ideas of ways to encourage children to participate throughout Great Lent: http://illumination-learning.com/main/2015/02/14/living-our-faith-its-too-hard-for-my-kids/.

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If you are interested in additional fasting meal suggestions, here are two links that may be helpful:

https://orthodoxfastingrecipes.wordpress.com/

https://www.orthodoxmom.com/orthodox-kitchen/

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Here is another creative way that a family can experience Lent together (including fasting, attending services, and giving to those in need). This easily explains and tracks the lenten journey on the family fridge: http://ww1.antiochian.org/content/family-activities-lenten-journey 

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Here is a printable coloring and activity book for the Sundays of Lent and Holy Week: https://www.scribd.com/doc/49025598/Lent-Workbook-English-2

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Love at Lent offers 50 daily task cards that each reinforce the Lenten values of kindness, forgiveness, prayer, generosity, gratitude, and love. Children or families can select one card each day of Great Lent and Holy Week, and then do the task that will help them to better love God and their neighbors. https://store.ancientfaith.com/love-at-lent/ 

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Find 40 activities (one for each day of Great Lent) here: http://ww1.antiochian.org/40-activities-great-lent

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This offers an overview of each Sunday of Lent, complete with the message of the week and suggested activities: https://www.scribd.com/doc/48101187/Lent-HolyWeek-Chart

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Here is an overview of Lenten Sundays and Holy Week, with suggested steps of action, specifically geared for teens: http://www.antiochian.org/content/lenten-message-all-orthodox-teens

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Need more ideas? Check out this blog post filled with additional Lenten resources for families and Church school teachers: https://www.asceticlifeofmotherhood.com/blog/lentguide 

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A Glimpse at “God’s Saintly Friends, Vol. 2” by Kathryn Reetzke

Park End Books has once again published a beautiful board book that introduces young Orthodox Christians to new “friends”: the saints of the Church. These new friends are no ordinary friends: because they are saints, they point us to Christ, and demonstrate the beautiful virtues that produce fruit in the life of each person who is truly following God. God’s Saintly Friends V. 2 is the second in this series of board books written by Kathryn Reetzke and illustrated by Abigail Holt. 

In this book, readers will meet eight sets of saintly friends, one for each spread of the book. This edition includes saints who were related to each other: Sts. Ruth and Naomi; St. Emelia and her children; Sts. Cosmos and Damien; Sts. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus; the Theotokos and St. Elizabeth; Sts. Cyril and Methodius; Sts. Benedict and Scholastica; and St. John the Forerunner. Kathryn Reetzke has succinctly written a one-sentence statement about each set of saints. This statement mentions the virtuous way in which a saintly friend points those around them to Christ. Each spread of the book also offers a few sentences introducing these saints who modeled that statement with their life. The spread also includes a drawing of the saints as they display the virtue and interact with these other members of their family.

Abigail Holt’s simple but beautiful illustrations pair beautifully with Reetzke’s words. The saintly friends are sketched in a straightforward style and colorized with a select palette. The illustrations are simple, but will be engaging for children of all ages. 

Readers will learn much from the words of the book, and desire to interact with their family members in a similar manner. Children will be especially drawn to the friendly faces and kindness of the saints on every page. The book may be one of those books that is just read over and over again. It could also be used for educational purposes: whether for a family study, or for a Church school class. With a little research and a few other resources, each spread could easily be crafted into a lesson about the saintly friends on that page (and the way in which they interacted with their family members), while also taking a closer look at the virtue that they modeled. Regardless of how the book is used, all who read it will be challenged to become a saintly friend and to seek saintly friends.

This book will be an asset to any family or Church school library. It would also make a beautiful gift, whether for a new baby, a baptism, a young child’s name day, or their birthday. (This reader liked it so much that she gave a copy to the newest little member of her parish on the day of her baptism!)

Find you own copy of this book here: https://parkendbooks.com/shop/gods-saintly-friends-volume-2/

The Antiochian Department of Christian Education thanks Park End Books for providing a copy of this book for review.

I Spy! Activity Page for “Beautiful Pascha: An Orthodox Coloring Book for Children”, Illustrated by Megan E. Gilbert 

Ancient Faith Publishing recently released a beautiful coloring and activity book called Beautiful Pascha: an Orthodox Coloring Book for Children. The pages are full of delightful illustrations, drawn by Megan E. Gilbert, related to the themes of Great Lent, Holy Week, and Pascha. Some pages are intended for coloring, while others are activity pages. Every page helps to point the reader/colorer towards the joy of the resurrection of Christ.

There are many details tucked into the book’s 64 pages. In order to maximize those details, and to add a fun challenge, there is now an I Spy! activity page of 33 things to search for as you read/complete the book. Some listed items are only found at one place in the book, while others are scattered on multiple pages. How many of each can you find? Happy hunting, blessed Lent, and a joyful resurrection to you and your family!

I Spy! activity page for Beautiful Pascha: an Orthodox Coloring Book for Children

Find the book Beautiful Pascha: an Orthodox Coloring Book for Children (including free pages that you can download and use while you wait for it to arrive) here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/beautiful-pascha-an-orthodox-coloring-book-for-children/

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts

A Glimpse at “Northern Lights of Christ: Lessons on Faith from Above the Birch Line” by Nic Hartmann

Winter approaches in the northern hemisphere. This season often feels dark, chilling, and lonely, but it does not have to be so. There is much to be learned from the Nordic lands, where winter is darker, chillier, and lonelier than most of us will ever experience: whose inhabitants have learned to not only endure, but embrace the season by virtue of the values at the core of their being (and their society).

Folklorist and author Dr. Nic Hartmann knits together his love for Nordic cultures with the Orthodox Christian faith in his book Northern Lights of Christ. The book introduces the reader to a handful of values esteemed and practiced by people in Nordic countries. Dr. Hartmann entwines these values with stories from the lives of Orthodox saints, stitching in glimpses of how each value is reflected in Orthodox practice, and breathing in the warmth of stories from his own life.

Northern Lights of Christ takes a look at five Nordic values: Hygge, Koselig, Lagom, Sisu, and Ísbíltúr. The book explains each in its particular cultural context while also demonstrating how beautifully it relates to the Orthodox Faith. Readers will quickly warm up to each value, as they recognize the ways in which it can (and should!) be a beneficial part of our Faith journey. 

The first chapter focuses on the Danish concept of hygge, a mindset of pursuing coziness/contentment through embracing light and simplicity, while engaging all of our senses. The second chapter introduces the Norwegian value of koselig, a deep contentment experienced by slowness, creating, and simplicity. The third chapter discusses the Swedish practice of lagom, a pursuit of balance in life, achieved by simplicity and moderation. The fourth chapter considers the Finnish characteristic of sisu, the stamina and resilience that is required of us in adversity. The fifth chapter focuses on the Icelandic practice of ísbíltúr, literally “a drive to get ice cream” that is more about the drive and the companionship on the journey than it is about a destination or even about the ice cream.

This book can be read by an individual, who will certainly learn and grow through reading it. But reading (and processing) Northern Lights of Christ together with a group will add a great dimension to the learning. After all, each of the Nordic values addressed in the book is best practiced in community, as is our Faith. The questions at the end of each chapter will make it easy to discuss the book with others.

Warm your heart and grow in the Faith alongside good friends as you gather around a handful of candles with hot drinks and the Northern Lights of Christ.

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts

You can purchase a copy of Northern Lights of Christ from Park End Books https://parkendbooks.com/shop/northern-lights-of-christ/ . It can also be found on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.

Reviewing “A Sacred Beginning: Nurturing Your Body, Mind, & Soul During Baby’s First 40 Days” by Sarah Brangwynne & Sasha Rose Oxnard

A Sacred Beginning serves as a doula to the new mother’s soul: holding her up and encouraging her; while also strengthening her resolve and gently pushing her to do the hard work set before her. Sarah Brangwynne and Sasha Rose write from depths of insight garnered by experience. In their work as a therapist and a family physician, as well as in their personal lives, they have walked these 40 days time and again, holding each other (and others) up along the way. Through these pages the authors reach out to embrace their reader, bolstering her climb up the ladder of divine ascent; soaking her in the wisdom of the Church fathers and the Scriptures; and fortifying her with whispers of camaraderie.

The authors’ experience as mothers is not their sole qualifier for the writing of this book: they both also work in related fields. Sarah is a therapist and Sasha is a family physician. The marriage of their occupations with their personal experience with motherhood lays a sound foundation for this book. 

The introduction of the book lays a good foundation for the 40 days’ meditations, and readers are encouraged to read that part prior to meeting their new little one. The book is divided into 40 days’ readings, all focused on a step (or part of a step) of the Ladder of Divine Ascent. Each day’s reading contains a meditation, quotes from the Fathers and/or Scripture, and personal stories/encouragement from the authors. Many times the day’s entry will contain a look at a way for the new mother to practice what the meditation is about through a physical or spiritual exercise or a suggested journal discussion question.The book concludes with appendices of helpful, related information. Throughout the book, the reader is challenged to do the hard thing to the best of her ability, to ask for and accept help, and to bathe her mothering with prayer.

This book is full of encouragement, helpful quotes and insights, and support for a mother; whether she is welcoming her first child or her last. If the reader wades deep into each day’s reading or is merely able to dip in one toe, the waters will refresh her, buoying her soul as she cares for her new little one. Sarah and Sasha’s supportive words are right there with her, ready to hold her up as a doula does, and she will find that their words, in this book, truly have “got her back”.

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts

The book is available for purchase here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/a-sacred-beginning/

A Closer Look at “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour: Lessons 12 and 13

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

Lesson 12: Fasting

The twelfth lesson of “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” begins with a reminder that true prayer is being with our best friend. The lesson asks the reader if they only think and talk when they’re with a friend, or if they use their whole body (for example, to wave or give a high five and to play) when they’re with their friend. Of course, the whole body is involved! It is the same way with prayer.

But how can we pray with our whole body? There are many ways, including standing to pray, making prostrations, reverently kissing things (and people) that point us to God, making the sign of the cross, etc. But the lesson also goes on to say that we can pray with our body by fasting.

The lesson speaks of how fasting shapes our obedience and trains our spiritual muscles. Just like we work out to make our body strong, fasting helps to make our spiritual muscles strong. It cites examples from the lives of the saints, including a story of one time when Fr. Arseny, in the Soviet prison camp, leaned on his fasting and prayer, and they made him strong (not just spiritually, but physically in this instance!).

This lesson makes it clear that we need to fast, not just because it is good for us, but because it is a necessary part of our spiritual life.

 

Here are a few quotes from the lesson:

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“We love God and pray to Him with all that we are, and that includes our strength, our muscles, our bones, and every cell in our bodies. We can use our bodies to help our heart and our mind and our soul to pray, to be with God and to know Him better.” (p. 99, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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“Fasting is forgetting about our hunger for food so that we can be hungry for God. If we fast properly, it helps us to focus our mind and soul and heart on the Lord. When we fast, we empty our stomachs in order to fill our souls and hearts more fully with prayer.” (p. 4, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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“Saint John Chrysostom said that fasting is one wing and prayer is the other. Have you ever seen a bird fly with one wing? We need both wings if we are to fly spiritually toward God.” (p. 101, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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Parents and older children will benefit from listening to this podcast about fasting from Fr. Thomas Hopko (of blessed memory). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OgWh8C7ezNE

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CHILDRENS CATECHISM - COVER, FRONT copy

 

Lesson 13: Almsgiving

The thirteenth lesson of “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” picks up where the twelfth chapter left off: by reminding the reader that we need prayer and fasting, the two wings that help us fly to God. Then it goes on to state that we need more than those two things if we wish to fly to God. The third essential thing to help us grow toward God is almsgiving. Fr. Michael calls almsgiving the wind that will lift our prayer and fasting “wings” to God.

The lesson goes on to talk about how God gives us alms: He gives us love, rain, food, clothing, cheer… He knows what we need, and He gives that to us. The lesson explains that “alms” means mercy. It goes on to explain what mercy is and how important it is for us to give mercy, because of how merciful God is to us.

The lesson takes a look at how we should show mercy, or give alms: not loudly to get attention, but secretly. It cites St. Nicholas’ example, and explains that God’s rewards last forever. The reader is encouraged to share alms with others out of love, seeing them as Christ Himself. (The lesson includes the story of St. Martin, who shared his cloak with a beggar, and that night he had a dream in which Christ was wearing that cloak!)

The lesson concludes with a reminder that faith, hope, and love are the greatest things. Prayer shows that we have faith. Fasting places our hope in God. And Almsgiving gives God’s love to others while also growing His love in our own heart. This is why prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are so necessary to our Christian life: they are ways that we show that we are living out “the greatest things”!

May God grow all of us closer to Himself as we live in this way.

 

Here are a few quotes from the lesson:

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“Prayer and fasting are like two wings. But almsgiving is the “wind” that lifts our wings upward to God.” (p. 105, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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“The Lord is telling us to do good so that God will notice, not other people. Because then God will reward us. If we do it so that others will think we are good or special, we may become prideful and there is no heavenly reward in that.” (p. 106, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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“People with little, tiny hearts have a really hard time loving and showing mercy. But God wants our hearts to be really big. Is your heart big? Can it get bigger? Are you giving alms so that you will have rewards in heaven?” (p. 107, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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Faith, hope and love are the three great virtues of the Christian life. Everything we have learned in our catechism is meant to lead us to these qualities and to this virtuous way of life, so that we may be united to our one God and Father, through His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit—the Holy Trinity, one in essence and undivided. Amen!” (p. 108, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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

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

 

Lesson 10: Repentance and Confession

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

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

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

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

Here are a few quotes from the lesson:

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

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

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

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

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CHILDRENS CATECHISM - COVER, FRONT copy

 

Lesson 11: Prayer

 

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

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

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

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

Here are a few quotes from the lesson:

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“Now, do you have a best friend, or at least a very good friend? Do you love being with them? Do you think about them when you’re not with them? …This is how we ought to be with God; like best friends. Do you forget your best friend? No! And we should try not to forget God either. Do you know what it is called when we remember God? It is called prayer. Prayer is when our hearts are joined together with God.” (p. 91, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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

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

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

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A Closer Look at “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour: Lessons 8 and 9

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

Lesson 8: “The Medicine of Immortality”

The eighth lesson of “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” is called “The Medicine of Immortality”. It takes a closer look at Holy Communion, beginning by helping the reader to think through why it is that we call this sacrament “communion” in the first place. That is, because it joins us together in a common union. Communion joins us together as one with each other and with God.

The lesson goes on to explain how St. Ignatius of Antioch called Holy Communion “the Medicine of Immortality” because it unites us to Christ and allows us to live forever with God. The book takes a look at the institution of Holy Communion: when Our Lord served His disciples just before His death. We call this the “Mystical Supper” because of the Mystery of how Christ revealed Himself to them (and now, reveals Himself to us) through eating and drinking.

The lesson tells how in the Liturgy, we experience the Mystical Supper, Christ’s death, and His resurrection. It reminds us of Christ’s words “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (Jn. 6:53). It compares someone giving a healthy kidney or donating their blood to help sick people with Christ offering us His Perfect Blood to heal our sick souls.

In order to be ready to receive that healing “transfusion”, though, we must prepare our hearts. The lesson reminds us to constantly prepare our hearts for Communion by the way that we live, including being kind, fasting, praying, and participating in the services at Church. When we prepare our hearts, they are ready for the healing that Holy Communion offers.

The lesson finishes by talking about gifts: we bring gifts (bread and wine to represent the good things in life, and to represent our own selves) to God. He transforms these gifts into His own Self: His flesh and His blood, Holy Communion. It is the greatest gift of all, and the very best medicine for us.

Here are a few quotes from the lesson:

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“When we receive Holy Communion together from the one loaf of bread and from the one chalice, we become one: one family, one community, one communion, one Church. We even become one with the perfect Community, the Holy Trinity—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!” (p. 65, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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“Have you heard about the notion of time-travel? …The Divine Liturgy is a kind of spiritual time travel. God does not live within time and His kingdom is beyond time… So, whenever we celebrate the Divine Liturgy we return spiritually to be with Christ at the Mystical Supper, at the Cross and at the Resurrection.” (p. 67, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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“We also refer to the Divine Liturgy and Holy Communion as ‘The Eucharist.’ Do you know what this word means? Eucharist means gratitude or thankfulness, so every Divine Liturgy is a ‘Thanksgiving,’ a giving thanks to God for our lives and for all His gifts.” (p. 68, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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Parents and older children may enhance their learning about Holy Communion and its gifts to us by reading this article: https://www.goarch.org/-/holy-communion-the-gift-of-eternal-life

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CHILDRENS CATECHISM - COVER, FRONT copy

 

Lesson 9: “Holy Baptism”

The ninth lesson of “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” helps its readers learn more about the sacrament of Holy Baptism. Just like we have to be born before we can eat anything, we must be born into God’s Kingdom through baptism before we can receive the healing gift of Holy Communion. Only when we are joined to the Church, Jesus’ Body, through Holy Baptism can we commune.

Fr. Michael uses the object lesson of walking around in a dark room and not knowing where the light switch is, to help his readers better understand their soul before being illumined by Baptism. Without turning on the light, we may get used to the darkness and maybe even forget what light is like, but with the light it is so very much easier to see where we should go and what we should do. Fr. Michael encourages his readers to pray for those who do not have the light of the Church and Holy Baptism.

The lesson goes on to take the reader, step by step, through the baptismal process, carefully explaining each part of the service and its importance. From “telling the devil to ‘get out of town!’” to the prayers preparing both the individual and the water to the anointing to the actual baptism to the new white robe and chrismation, all the way to the first taste of Holy Communion, each step is gently explained in this lesson. It is a thorough and child-friendly introduction to the sacrament of Holy Baptism.

Here are a few quotes from the lesson:

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

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“The Saints teach us that when we are baptized in the Church we are illumined or enlightened. Do you know what that means? It means we are lit up; the light goes on inside us, because Jesus the True Light has come into us.” (p. 74, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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“Now that they have been born into life with God in the Church, the priest leads them, with the Gospel Book in his hands, in a little walk or ‘dance;’ a dance of joy around the baptismal font. This shows that their lives will be led by Christ and revolve around the life of Jesus and His Church.” (p. 79, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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In episode #71 of “Be the Bee”, host Steve helps older children and parents think about what it means to become an Orthodox Christian through constantly making the choice to follow Christ. He suggests that we are not just Orthodox through Baptism and Holy Communion (although both are certainly integral to our Christian Faith!), but that we also need to make daily choices to continue to follow Christ. Watch the episode here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EysL5aldWhg

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Cross String Art Craft

Here’s a craft suggestion that may be helpful as we prepare to celebrate Holy Week at home as a family:

Cross String Art Craft

Materials: scrap of wood at least 3.25”x 5”; sandpaper; copy of cross template; 12 half inch finishing nails; hammer; paint/brush (optional); embroidery floss; scissors

Directions:
1. Sand any rough edges of the wood until smooth. Brush away the dust.
2. (Optional) If desired, paint wood and allow it to dry. Sand edges to “antique” the painted wood, if desired.
3. Partially nail each of the nails into the wood, in this pattern (adjusting as needed to fit the size of the wood). Leave as much of each nail exposed as possible, hammering it into the wood just enough to adequately hold it firmly in place. (Note: scale the pattern according to the desired size of your finished piece. Additional nails may be needed for larger-sized crosses.)

4. Select a color of embroidery floss. Tie its end to one of the nails, trimming the excess on the short side of the knot.
5. Wrap the long end of the floss around one nail at a time, working your way around the shape of the cross. Two or more times around the outside edge is recommended for maximum visibility.
6. To fill the cross shape, wrap floss around a nail, then cross it (inside the cross shape) to another nail and wrap again. Continue until the inside of the cross is decorated. (Note: play with different designs and crossover patterns to achieve the look you prefer. Many different looks can be created with this template.)
7. (Optional) At any time, tie off one color (around a nail, as when beginning) and begin with another, continuing until you are pleased with the results.

Note: If working with children on this project, decide in advance how much of it you wish them to complete on their own, and prepare accordingly. Some children can handle the nailing; others cannot. Extra adult assistance may also be necessary for the floss-wrapping process; especially for the tying-off of each floss. 

A Page to Help with Focus During Streaming Liturgies

The OCEC’s “Divine Liturgy Activity Book”, available here, includes a page that can be helpful as we lead our children through streaming Divine Liturgies at home. The OCEC has very kindly granted us permission to share this page, page 12 in that book, with you in case it would be helpful to you.

Consider printing one copy for each child. The first time your child follows along with a liturgy, with this page in hand, they can number the items in the order that they see the priest do them. The copy could be used a second time, if the child colors each piece of the circle on the page as he/she sees it happening during a subsequent liturgy.

Here is a link to the printable page.

We thank the OCEC for allowing us permission to share this page.