Category Archives: Orthodox Family Life

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:

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: 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: 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:


“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)


“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)


“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)


Parents and older children will benefit from listening to this podcast about fasting from Fr. Thomas Hopko (of blessed memory).





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:


“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)


“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)


“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)


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)



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: 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: 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:


“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)


“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)


“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)


In this 15-minute video, Fr. Ted talks more about Confession. Older children and adults will benefit from hearing his talk.




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:


“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)


“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)


“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)


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:



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: 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: 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:


“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)


“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)


“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)


Parents and older children may enhance their learning about Holy Communion and its gifts to us by reading this article:




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:


“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)


“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)


“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)


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:



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

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.

A Handful of New Resources

We have recently come across a handful of new resources that can help Orthodox parents and educators as they instruct the children in their lives. We thank the authors for sharing electronic copies of these resources with us. We are sharing the resources with you in the order in which they came to our attention. We hope that you find them helpful as you instruct our young brothers and sisters in the Faith.


Philo and the SuperHolies VBS  

Fans of Mireille Mishriky’s “Philo” books will be delighted to know that she has collaborated with Shereen Marcus (of Bridges to Orthodoxy) and they have created a SuperHolies-themed Vacation Church School program. This five-day program provides its purchasers with videos, crafts and activities, lesson plans including Bible stories, saint stories, and memory verses, and even “parent recap cards” that can further the children’s learning as parents ask additional questions about each day’s experience.

Each VCS session focuses one one or two SuperHolies each day. (If you are not familiar with them, the “SuperHolies” are the fruits of the Spirit). The session begins with a video featuring Philo and his “Super Challenge” of the day. The children are invited to help Philo to use a Fruit (or two) of the Spirit to help him overcome his challenge, and that Fruit, that SuperHoly, is the focus for the entire day’s session. Every session also contains a saint’s story and a passage or story from the Scriptures.

The program is designed to include two small group sessions for the children. In one, they’ll learn about an Orthodox saint who is struggling with a challenge similar to Philo’s. In the other, they’ll focus on a passage from the Scriptures that is also related to that struggle. There are planned activities, discussion suggestions, and even crafts that will support this learning. The goal of the day is to help Philo figure out what to do about his Super Challenge.

The program includes suggestions for each day’s opening and closing large group sessions (including the video of Philo’s Super Challenge of the day); two small group session lesson plans for K-1st, 2nd-3rd, and 4th-5th for each day; extra ideas (including game suggestions, songs, and videos) and the printable Parent Recap card for each of the 5 days.

Find more information here:


Divine Liturgy Guide

Gina Govender has developed a Divine Liturgy book that can help children to follow along with key portions of the Liturgy. “The Divine Liturgy: A Guide for Orthodox Children” was illustrated by Althea Botha, and has been endorsed by Archbishop Damaskinos of Johannesburg and Pretoria.

The intent of this book is to provide children with instructions so that they can easily follow along in the Divine Liturgy. At the beginning of the book, a section called “The Meaning of the Divine Liturgy”, talks children through the liturgy and encourages them to look for ways that each part of the liturgy points to the life of Christ. The pages that follow walk the children through the liturgy by including actual portions of the liturgical text illustrated by a colorful watercolor-and-ink picture. These portions of the liturgy are shared in the book: Commencement, Prayers for Peace, the Little Entrance, the Readings, the Great Entrance, Spiritual Prayers, the Creed, the Mystical Supper, the Invocation & Sanctification, Supplication, the Lord’s Prayer, Holy Communion, Prayer of Thanksgiving, and the Dismissal.

The acknowledgements page of the book encourages parents of the readers to bring their children to church, even if they are wiggly and noisy. After all, “The presence of children is a gift to the Church and a reminder that our community is growing. As Christ said, ‘Let the children come to me.’” This book can help to welcome the children and involve them in the liturgy.

Inquire about purchasing the book here: (Notes: the price noted is listed in South African Rands, and at the time of this post, equals slightly less than $15, not including shipping/handling. The book is a fundraiser for upgrades at a Hellenic playschool/pre-primary school in Senderwood, South Africa.)


Super Secret TreeHouse Bible Club and the Prophet Micaiah

Author Mireille Mishriky has introduced a brand new series of children’s picture books! “The Super-Secret TreeHouse Bible Club” will take children on an adventure with a group of children who are struggling with the virtues. Along the way, the children in the Super-Secret TreeHouse Bible Club will get to know some of the lesser-known saints from the Bible. The first book, “The Super-Secret TreeHouse Bible Club and the Prophet Micaiah” walks alongside Marina, Theodore, and Marcorios as they learn why it takes courage to be honest, and how God blesses people who tell the truth.

Marina isn’t sure what to do because her friend encouraged her to lie, or she would no longer be her friend. Theo doesn’t know how to LIVE the Bible, as their priest said in his homily. Marco also doesn’t know how they can possibly “…not merely listen to the Word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says”, but he suggests that they begin by praying. And so, they do.

A bird appears as they pray, and it helps them find a story in the scriptures about the prophet Michaiah, who told the truth when hundreds of others were lying. It landed him in jail. But in the end, he was right, and if the kings had listened to him and obeyed his words instead of the ones they wanted to hear, they would have been spared much heartache. Marina makes a secret wish, and the bird helps it to come true: the children get to meet the prophet Michaiah, who appears in their treehouse, and they ask him a few questions.

His wisdom helps Marina know what to do, and the book ends on a positive note as Marina and her friend Sarah come clean on what happened.

This book is available as an ebook, and you will find it here:


A Closer Look at “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour: Lessons 2 and 3

This is the second in a series of closer looks at Fr. Michael Shanbour’s book “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” (available here: 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: 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 2: The Fall


The second lesson of “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” helps children to learn about the choices that Adam and Eve made and the consequences of those choices. As is characteristic of the book, the lesson is written as a conversation. It uses only words that children can easily understand.

The lesson begins by describing Paradise as a place that was beautiful both inside and out. When God placed Adam and Eve in this beautiful place, they could have lived there with God forever, if they had chosen to do so. They had a lot to learn, since they were newly created. Their bodies were grown up bodies, but they needed to grow spiritually.

God provided all that Adam and Eve needed, and set only one limit: they were not to eat from one tree in the middle of the garden. Just as we are all easily tempted to do the things that we know we are not supposed to do, Adam and Eve fell prey to the serpent’s tempting words when he told Eve that God’s limits on the tree were not quite fair.

The lesson explains how they ate, and everything changed. Their communion with God was broken. They felt cold and naked. They even tried to hide from God. Then it goes on to show how God in His mercy extended the opportunity for Adam and Eve to repent, to own up to what they’d done, so that their relationship could be restored. But they blamed others rather than admitting their own choice.

The lesson tells about how this made God feel very sad and that because of their choice, He had to send them out of Paradise, and eventually they would die. However, it explains that this was not a permanent separation: it is more of a “time out” until God could do something to cure them. That “something” is Christ.


Here are a few quotes from the lesson:


“God gave them everything they needed. And He wanted them to love Him and to be obedient so they could always know His embrace. But sometimes kids are not obedient. Have you always been obedient? Tell the truth! Did your mom and dad tell you not to touch a hot plate, but you did, and you burned your hand? Did they tell you not to eat so much candy because you would get sick? Did you eat it anyway and end up with a stomach ache? Most of us have done something like that. Adam and Eve did something like that too.” (p. 19, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)


“What did Eve do? She listened to the serpent… Eve was tempted with pride. And so, she ate. Then she gave some to her husband Adam. And he ate too. And what happened? They began to feel different inside: sad and lonely and cold. God seemed so far away now. Things changed outside too…” (p. 21, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)


“God wanted to give Adam and Eve a chance for Confession. But they didn’t confess their own sin: they confessed the sin of others. In the Church, God has given us the Sacrament of Confession… whose sins do we confess? Only our own, right? We don’t blame others like Adam and Eve did. This is very important to keep us healthy and close to God.” (p. 22, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)


Parents and older children may benefit from hearing more about the Fall in this podcast:



Lesson 3: The Sickness of Sin


The third lesson of the book focuses on the sickness of sin. It begins with a quick review of the preceding lessons, since they lay the groundwork for this one. It also offers several footnotes which contain additional activities that could be done during the reading of their particular part of the lesson, to enhance the lesson and better demonstrate the point(s) being made.

After the brief review, the lesson goes on to talk about how God has created each person in His image, stamped with His image on our heart. Beginning with Adam and Eve, anytime someone chooses to sin, this icon, the image of God, becomes dark and difficult to see. It is easy for us to forget God when His image in our heart is dirty with sin. We think more of ourselves and what we want. His image in our heart needs to be cleaned and restored. The lesson mentions that only Christ can clean it, and that the reader will learn more about it in a future lesson.

The lesson goes on to teach the reader about their nous, the eye of their soul, which was created to help each of us to see God and His blessings. It tells the reader that when we sin, our nous becomes dark like a window at nighttime: we can not see through it because it is darkened. When God’s light is not in us because of our sin, we can’t see Him clearly and it feels like He is far away (even though He is not).

The lesson explains how Adam tried to replace loving God with things, as he tried to become happy again. All of us do the same, choosing to follow our passions instead of God. It compares passions to magnets and offers a memorable hands-on suggestion of how to demonstrate the lesson using actual magnets. The lesson talks about how everyone has passions, even saints. The saints, however, have learned to turn their passions over and turn to God instead, which makes the passions no longer able to “stick”. (The suggested activity of turning one of the magnets over at this point to show how they repel each other will be an effective way to make this point.)

Before its close, this lesson touches on the struggles we all face to keep our hearts clean, keep our attention on God, and keep our trust in God. Sin fights against all of these. But Christ can provide the medicine that we need to be saved in these struggles, and the forthcoming lessons will help us to learn more.


Here are a few quotes from the lesson:


“…God did not create Adam and Eve to die… He was sad to see their hearts darkened and sick with sin. For this meant their hearts could no longer see Him and experience His perfect love.

Because we are children of Adam and Eve, we also live with this sickness… How can we become healthy again?” (p. 27, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)


“…after Adam sinned he had difficulty seeing the stamp of Jesus in his heart. This means that Adam forgot about God and thought mostly about himself and his own desires. He no longer sensed that God was in him and with him. Do you ever forget about God?” (p. 28, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)


“Like a magnet, when our passions get too close to sin they want to stick to them. These passions pull us toward sin. And the more we sin, the stronger the magnetic force becomes. Sometimes it feels like we can’t stop from sinning, but with God’s grace we can.” (p. 30, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)


“The saints cleaned their hearts from the dark passions so that the light of God could come in.When the light of God comes into our hearts, we can see what is really important and true. Our spiritual eye—our nous—is filled with light. We find joy and peace. Then we can turn our attention to the love of God and our neighbor.” (p. 31, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)


Parents and older children may benefit from listening in as Mother Melania from St. Barbara Orthodox Monastery in Santa Paula, California talks with Kevin Allen about the passions, how they cloud the window of our hearts, and how we can begin the work to be free of their grasp in this podcast:


While at Home: Choosing to Make the Most of Bonus Family Time

In this season of social distancing, many of us find ourselves at home with our children, with considerably fewer activities and opportunities filling our schedule. At moments this may feel daunting: how can we possibly keep our children “entertained” for that many hours, for an uncertain number of days? How will we not all go “stir crazy”?

Right now, at the beginning of this season – however long it may be – is a good time for us to carefully choose our mindset, which will shape the atmosphere of our home. If we view this “bonus” time together as a gift from God, wherein we can build our relationships with each other and continue to grow toward Him, our children will respond accordingly. We are being given the opportunity to teach our children, through our example, what it means to trust God and to love and serve others. They will see – even more than usual – our gratitude towards God and His provision; our generosity with our neighbors near and far; and the love that we have for Christ, demonstrated in our prayer/study/participation in church (as possible).

Will we fail? Yes. When we do, let us model asking for forgiveness and getting back up again. Fall down, get up again: this is the way our Faith works! How we handle our own failure is also an opportunity to teach. Glory be to God, Who never gives up on us when we fail.

This bonus family time affords us the chance to help our children learn more about the Faith. Of course, our own example is the best way to teach them! But there are many resources available that we can access from home that can help. We aim to share these resources (and some others, just for fun!) with the community. It is our hope that these resources will help you to build your (and your children’s) faith while also creating many fun family memories.

May the Lord bless us all, and strengthen us for the days ahead.

Here is a large collection of resources that you may wish to comb through:


Orthodox Educational Resources:

Listen to Dr. Chrissi Hart reading a great variety of children’s books at

Every day, you can listen to Deacon Jerome Atherholt’s readings about a saint commemorated that day, here:

Prepare your heart for Sunday’s Gospel reading by listening to

Each week you can listen to this meditation and then discuss it together:

If you have small children in your life, don’t miss this resource:

Find Orthodox crafts, ideas, and even some recipes here:

If your children enjoy activity books, check these out! Themes include “Saints Who Were Physicians and Healers”, “Saints and the Animals That Served Them”, “Saints in Times of Trouble”,“Saints of North America”, and more! Find them here:

The OCA’s department of Christian Education has these wonderful focus units (“Journey to Pascha”, “My Orthodox Family”, “The Theotokos”, and more) available for free download:

Potamitis Publishing offers all sorts of children’s books and activity books. Their “Paterikon for Kids” books are child-sized and colorful, and will be a useful resource to any family!

This is a great time to take in the “Be the Bee” video series and talk about them together as a family! Find them here:

Celebrate spring and new life with these activities:

There are so many needy people around us, and now we “see” them more easily. How can we help, even if we have limited resources? Here are some suggestions of ways to work together as a family to help someone in need:

Here are a few of the Orthodox books that we’ve shared, as well as some learning ideas that could be used at home (even though the ideas were originally written for Sunday Church school classes):                                (“H is for Holy” by Nika Boyd)

Learn more about the saints during this time! They have all been through great struggles and show us how to be faithful to God to the end. Although these blogs were written for Sunday Church school, many of the ideas will work in a home setting, as well. Search “saints” at  to find ideas like these:

Find a variety of Orthodox-related art and craft ideas here:

Other Educational resources:

Many companies are offering free subscriptions during the social distancing period. Here’s a list:

Free printable pages by theme or age level:

Online educational resources for a variety of ages:

Take these virtual field trips without any of the expense!

Here are even more virtual field trips:

Just for fun:

Here are a variety of spring-related activities:

Here are 50 (!) family-fun activities you can do together:

This is a wonderful season for reading. Here are some suggestions for great chapter books:

Perhaps it is too cold to do some of these activities, but others may be fun! and and

This is the perfect time to practice random acts of kindness. What a gloriously fun way for us to be thinking of others more than ourselves, and to bring joy in this tense time! Need some ideas? Check these out:

Take a daily safari with the Cincinnati Zoo! From their Facebook post: “While the Cincinnati Zoo is closed and kids are home from school, let us help make your children’s hiatus from school fun and educational. Join us for a Home Safari Facebook Live each weekday at 3pm where we will highlight one of our amazing animals and include an activity you can do from home.”

Here’s a daily lunch doodling time with author/illustrator Mo Williams:

Craft idea: make a Godfulness Jar.

Explore a variety of art styles together (yes, you too, mom or dad!) during this time at home. Here are a few suggestions:

Work on learning the scriptures together by scripture journaling. Here are a few ideas:

There’s a whole series of art tutorials, each featuring a cross (but could be used for anything), that you may enjoy trying together. The first in the series focuses on using paper as the main medium, and is found here. (At the end of the blog post there’s a link to the second in the series. Follow that link and the subsequent ones to find all of the different tutorials.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find “Fertile Ground: A Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy” here:

Here’s a conversation with Laura about her interesting life and her book:

Here are some gleanings from the book:


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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