Category Archives: Prayer

Gleanings from a Book: “Time and Despondency” by Dr. Nicole Roccas

As soon as this book arrived in the mail, I resolved to read it and share some gleanings from it with this community. My thought process was somewhere along the lines of: “It will be great for parents and teachers to read this book so they can help their despondent kids.” In my mind’s eye, this book had the makings of an excellent tool for young people or for adults with teens in their life.

I was right.

And I was wrong.

Nicole Roccas’ “Time and Despondency” takes the reader on a journey through time and thought as it addresses the relationship between time and despondency, which is “no less than a perpetual attempt by the mind to flee from the present moment, to disregard the gift of God’s presence at each juncture of time and space.” (p. 15) The book offers much to ponder, including quotes from church fathers and other noted Christian authors, all pointing to the fact that despondency is a real problem for Christians. Not just teens and young adults encounter despondency. It is a struggle for Christians of all ages. Parents and teachers, too. Myself included.

But this book does not merely shake a finger in the face of its readers, scolding them for not caring or for abandoning the present or God, Who meets us in the present. Rather, the book extends grace to the reader. It encourages them to do the same to themselves and to others. Then it walks the reader through a host of ideas of ways to begin to heal and step away from despondency; whether with counter statements from scripture or with stepping stones built on virtues and disciplines.

As it turns out, I needed to read this book. Perhaps someday it will be helpful to me as I relate to the teens and young adults in my life. But right now, I needed to read this for my own salvation. Maybe once I have “removed the log from my own eye” I can begin to help others. I encourage you to read it, as well, so that we can journey together out of despondency and back to the present, where we find – and connect with – God.

You can purchase a copy of “Time and Despondency” here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/time-and-despondency/

Listen to Dr. Nicole Rocca’s podcast here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/timeeternal

Find her blog here: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/timeeternal/

Note: when I read a book so that I can write a “Gleanings” blog post, I mark potential quotes to share by adhering sticky notes beside the quote. When I take a photo of the book to use for the blog’s illustration, I usually remove those sticky notes. This book, however, is so highly quotable that it garnered many, many sticky notes. I left them in the book for this illustration photo so that you can see for yourself that the gleanings I am sharing are not nearly all of the ones I’d have liked to share! There is so much to ponder in this book. Here are some gleanings from it:

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“‘Despondency is the impossibility to see anything good or positive; it is the reduction of everything to negativism and pessimism. […] Despondency is the suicide of the soul because when man is possessed by it, he is absolutely unable to see the light and desire it.’” (Dr. Nicole Roccas quoting Alexander Schmemann, “Time and Despondency”, p. 23)
***
“Despondency has an infinite array of disguises and symptoms. Among the most universal signs is inner restlessness, yet this can present itself in countless ways, depending on the person. For some, the restlessness makes it problematic to sit alone, to read a book to completion, to pray for any length or intensity, or to finish a task at work. Others can perform all of these activities but find themselves hounded by a stubborn anger or boredom while doing so. For still others, despondency begins as an inclination towards sleep, eating, distraction, or worry.”
(Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p.26)
***
“Just as the poison of spiritual sickness begins in the soul, so too does healing. Even after despondency has affected the body or those around us, restoration starts within us and unfolds a new directions to revive all aspects of a person’s self and life…. In other words the restoration of a single human soul has almost limitless transformative effects that ripple throughout the rest of the world.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, pp.34-35 )
***
“Time is the dimensional fabric that allows relationship and action to happen. Without it, there would be little prospect of communion, forgiveness, or change of heart—all life-giving possibilities hinge on the interaction of time and eternity in the here and now of our existence. When we begin to look at these two realms from the vantage point of Christ and human relationship, it seems that eternity is not as far off as we often assume. In fact, eternal life—and with it, healing from despondency—begins when we start to exercise that capacity to ‘realize’ life while we live it every, every minute…” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 44)
***
“…time affords us: the opportunity to turn toward (or away from) God, life, love, and goodness. Like a lover or a friend, God left space for a path back to relationship. In the fullness of time, Christ entered our world to pave this path for our sake. His Incarnation and Resurrection open the door for us, as God’s creatures, to ‘redeem time’…” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 48)
***
“Viktor Frankl wrote, ‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.’ Lest these words be dismissed as cliche, it’s worth mentioning that Frankl honed his thinking on human psychology while a prisoner in Auschwitz. Whenever I make excuses for my attitude, this quotation offers a suitable reality check.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 61)
***
“The opposite of this despondent condition is not happiness nor jubilation, but rather love—a turning outward from the self to one’s neighbor, God, and Eternity. The latter is crucial; in the view of the Church Fathers, the “every, every minute” we fail to realize in this life consists not merely of love or beauty but of eternity itself. Time then, becomes not only the vehicle of relationship and eternity, but the path of transformation we can travel to get there.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 65)
***
“Every day, every moment is accounted for in the church, and not just on an abstract levels but physically and concretely through the fasts, feasts, and seasons, all of which seek to manifest Christ in and through time. The Church calls not just our minds but our whole being and all our wandering loose ends back into existence, back into presence… Every juncture of sacred time links us to the Incarnation, the reaching of Eternity into this world, and in doing so, unites us not only to Christ but to the realization of are very selves as icons of Him. (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 88)
***
“Prayer is like a coin with two sides, doing and being. The ‘doing’ of prayer includes all the externalities—the words we articulate (audibly or not), the candles we light, the prostrations we make, the spaces we designate for prayer. In Orthodox Christianity, we have an abundance of highly developed rituals and practices to help us cultivate the journey inward. We sometimes burn incense, or use prayer ropes, or set certain corners of our homes apart for prayer. These rituals are not meant to be rote or mindless, but to nourish reverence and to remind us that we are incarnational beings—our bodies must learn to pray as well as our minds.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 98)
***
“We may not have chosen our disease, we may have no control over its remedy, but we can still choose to remain rather than to resist. ‘Abide in Me,’ Christ beckons us (John 15:4)—Stay. Endure. Surrender. Anyone in the midst of great pain knows it is a thousand times harder to accept this invitation than to give our hearts over to bitterness or despair. To stay with Christ where we are (rather than to seek Him where we are not) requires surrender and longsuffering, both of which move us to choose between him or hardness of heart.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 122)
***
“I’m of the opinion that the inverse of thanksgiving is not ingratitude but rumination, a relentless mental preoccupation with resolving the unfavorable aspects of our circumstances… Among other things, it suggests we may be living too much in our minds—that our mind is not dwelling in our heart, but oppressing it.”(Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 141)
***
“Work that is good for the soul is hard enough that the mind must focus on it, but easy enough that the work can be sustained for long periods of time… There is a humble creativity in performing ordinary tasks like making the bed or folding clothes… When we can manage such tasks with even a hint of grace and care, they are transfigured into something holy.”
(Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, pp. 151-152.)
***
“…one of the most beautiful things about sacredness is that it’s not all or nothing—it comes to us in small, ordinary things and times, and asks us to see the holy in finite moments. For whatever reason, we humans can only understand or encounter holiness in small morsels at a time—in a chalice, a piece of bread, a sip of wine. Any encounter with the sacred reminds us that it is enough to start somewhere, anywhere—it is enough to put one foot forward, to turn to Christ for one real moment. Wherever we begin, Real Life will seep out into the other areas of our existence.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, pp. 166-167)
***
“The liturgies of the Orthodox Church are punctuated countless ties by a simple supplication: ‘Lord, have mercy.’ To modern ears, such a prayer may sound stifling and self-diminishing: is God really so vengeful we must beg His forbearance at every turn? But in Orthodox conceptions, mercy is the balm of salvation, and to ask it of God affirms that He is merciful and loving in the first place.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 175)
***
“Redundant as it seems, worship in the liturgy turns time into a pilgrimage back—not back to our shame and feebleness, but through our feebleness and back to engagement, back to communion, back to Christ, one Kyrie eleison at a time.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 175)

 

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Gleanings From a Book: “Sasha and the Dragon” by Laura E. Wolfe

Author’s note: I would have loved to have read (and re-read) this book with my children when they were younger! “Sasha and the Dragon” is a powerful story of a boy who conquers his fears with the help of St. Michael the Archangel. Although it is a picture book, “Sasha and the Dragon” is appropriate for Orthodox Christians of many ages because of all that it addresses. This story opens the door for conversations about how strange a new country feels to an immigrant; what to do when you are alone and afraid at night; the reality of the saints’ readiness to come to our aid if we ask them to; and how the light of Christ illumines our world when we invite Him to do so!

Sasha has just moved to New York City from Russia. He misses the familiarity of his old village near the river: its sights, smells, and sounds. He felt safe there, and close to God. His new home, however,  is filled with shadows and seemingly uncaring people. It is grey and cold, and no one seems to know or love God or His saints. Other boys his age seem to mock Sasha at every turn instead of befriending him. Even his new house is not a very comforting place: his Baba who used to sing to him lies still in a scary room at the end of the hall. Sasha is afraid of everything in New York City.

Night time is the scariest for Sasha. Even though he signs himself with the cross before going to bed, he always feels the grey, unfamiliar shadows of the city lurking. One night, as Sasha lies in bed trying to go to sleep, he hears sounds under his bed, which he discovers to be a huge dragon. To his dismay, the dragon comes out from beneath his bed. Sasha is terrified and just wants to hide under the covers. Instead, he finds the courage to do all the right things: he kisses the cross he is wearing and then prays for help! An icon of the Archangel Michael hangs on the wall by Sasha’s bed, and Sasha is confident of the Archangel’s help. He asks St. Michael to kill the dragon with his sword.

As the dragon approaches, St. Michael’s icon begins to radiate heavenly light into the dark room. He races out of the icon on his great red steed and kills the dragon with his sword. As he does so, the room is filled with peace and hope. Sasha drifts happily to sleep. The next morning he wakes to find a slash from the dragon’s claw still remaining in the floor of his room, covered with a golden feather from St. Michael’s wings.

That very morning Sasha begins to notice and enjoy New York’s colors and good smells. A scarlet feather drifts into his hand as he walks. When he meets up with two of the mocking boys, instead of cowering or retreating, he surprises them by offering the feather to them. Sasha even braves the spooky hallway to take the golden feather to his Baba. Her delighted smile encourages Sasha, and he begins to sing to her, for he is no longer afraid!

This story is a delight, and Nicholas Malara’s drawings fit it perfectly. The art in this book is part “normal” picture book, part superhero story. The figures that are the most realistic are the accurately styled icons found on some of the pages. The tone of the illustrations changes from gloomy greys and muted colors at the beginning of the story to cheery bright colors at the end. This change is clearly intentional, and it greatly strengthens the story.

“Sasha and the Dragon” is an excellent addition to an Orthodox family’s library. It has a great story which also presents multiple possibilities for family discussion. Chances are, this book will be read again and again, offering many opportunities to discuss its contents.

“Sasha and the Dragon”  is available from Ancient Faith Publishing here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/sasha-and-the-dragon/

Here are a few discussion ideas and suggestions of ways to learn together after reading “Sasha and the Dragon”:

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Bedtime fears come to mind with the book “Sasha and the Dragon.” We recently wrote a blog post addressing them that may offer some helpful links. You can read it here. https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/12/21/bedtime-and-other-rituals-conclusion-and-facing-fears-at-bedtime/

***

“Sasha and the Dragon” features a little boy who has recently moved to New York. He may very well have been a refugee; at least his sudden change of environment hints at a similar experience. Help your children learn about what a refugee is (if the term is new to them), and how a refugee’s life changes radically when they arrive in their new place. This Jewish article suggests a few books that you may want to check out and read so see if they’d be helpful ones to share with your children, to better help them understand this topic: http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/216190/explain-refugee-crisis-to-kids

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What if your family were suddenly forced to be refugees? Think about that for a moment! How do you think a new world feels to those entering it? How did New York feel to Sasha when he moved there? Have you ever gone someplace completely different? Perhaps thinking back to that time can help you relate a tiny bit to a refugee’s experience, and give you an idea of what it would be like if you had to flee your own home and move someplace completely different, like Sasha did. When you were in that different place, did those around you speak your language? Did they do things the way that you are accustomed to doing them? Did you feel comfortable in the new place? Why or why not? Keep these thoughts in your mind as you meet new neighbors or classmates, refugee or not, and try to think from Sasha’s perspective: how does it feel to be that other person who finds themselves in a strange place? What can you do to welcome them and extend kindness?

***

Have you or anyone in your household ever felt afraid? “Sasha and the Dragon” is an excellent segue into a discussion on fears – especially fear of the dark – and how to best handle those fears. Talk together about what Sasha does when he feels afraid: He makes the sign of the cross, reverences the cross that he is wearing, and then expectantly prays for help! Find other ideas of ways to help your child who is afraid here: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/what-to-do-when-your-child-is-scared/

***

Who is St. Michael? Together as a family, learn more about him on the page dedicated to him in the back of “Sasha and the Dragon.” Look up other icons of him and compare them to the one in Sasha’s room. Learn to sing the troparion to St. Michael, found here: http://antiochian.org/sites/default/files/Trop-Archangel.Michael-HTM-choir.pdf . Remember to ask him for help and protection when you need it!

***

Consider purchasing an icon of St. Michael to place in your child(ren)’s bedroom, to remind them that St. Michael is watching over them and ready to help them, as well. Or print an illustration of St. Michael for them to color and hang in their room.

***

With older children, discuss the story. Also talk about the meaning/symbolism behind the story and many of the illustrations. For example:

  1. In the beginning of the story, everything in Sasha’s world is dark, grey, hushed, shadowed, and Sasha’s baba’s room “smells like the dead crow he had found at the park”. Why do you suppose it is this way? Do the shadows reflect how Sasha feels in any way? How do the pictures in the beginning of the book make you feel?
  2. Sasha sees dragon shadows everywhere at the beginning of the story. They are not mentioned in the story, per se, but show up in the illustrations. How many dragon shadows can you find in the book? What do  you suppose is the reason that the illustrator included these shadows in these illustrations? What do you think they represent?
  3. How do the other children respond to Sasha at the beginning of the story? Why do you suppose they do that? Does Sasha like it? How do you know? Have you ever felt that way around other children?
  4. What does Sasha do to help calm his fears? What do you do when YOU feel afraid? Can you tell about a time when you did something just like Sasha does, and it helped you? Why do you think it helped?
  5. The dragon in Sasha’s room was very real to Sasha! Do dragons exist in the world? What do you think Sasha’s dragon was or represents? Do you have any “dragons” in your life?
  6. Why did Sasha turn to St. Michael for help with the dragon in his room? What do you know about St. Michael that makes him a good saint to ask for help with your own “dragons”?
  7. What other saints can help us with the “dragons” in our life? How can we get them to help us?
  8. The illustrations in the book make us look hard at the difference between God and His angels and saints and satan and his “helpers” (for example, in this book, the dragon). How do the illustrations help you to see the difference between the two? Does that difference appropriately illustrate the difference in real life?
  9. Sasha does something that shows his complete trust in St. Michael’s ability to save him. What does he do? When you are feeling afraid and attacked, to whom do you turn? Do you have the courage to trust God and His saints fully to help you in those times? Why or why not? Try to remember Sasha kneeling on his bed, pointing right at the dragon, and shouting, “Kill it with your sword!” every time you are feeling afraid!
  10. How does St. Michael enter Sasha’s bedroom? Why do you think the author included smells and sounds in her description of his entrance? How does it make you feel about St. Michael’s presence with Sasha?
  11. Describe St. Michael’s victory over the dragon. If you were there, what would you have thought? Did St. Michael accomplish what Sasha asked him to do, or did he accomplish even more? What makes you think that?
  12. Is Sasha’s life any different after St. Michael kills the dragon in his room? Just by looking at the picture, how can you tell?
  13. Sasha finds a feather on a gash in his floor. What is special about the feather? How would you feel if you found a feather like that in your room? What would you do with it if you found one?
  14. How does Sasha’s world change on the morning after St. Michael’s visit? Describe what Sasha sees as he goes out for a walk with his mother. Is anything different? What is missing?
  15. What does Sasha do with the two feathers he receives? Why do you suppose he does that? How do the others feel after they receive a feather from Sasha?
  16. Compare the first illustration in the book to the last page of Sasha’s story. Are these illustrations alike or different? How so? And how did it happen that they came to be that way? Then compare Sasha at the beginning of the book to himself at the end. Is he the same, or different? How can you tell?

Gleanings From a Book: “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre

Author’s note: The use of the word “practical” in the title of this book is no accident. This is the most doable guide to prayer that I have ever read. Every chapter has easily-applicable suggestions that any Orthodox Christian can take to step in the direction of effective prayer. I am so grateful to have read the wisdom in this book. It is the perfect fusion of theology and scripture, incorporating examples and stories that make its contents so accessible that even I can understand them. The book is concise enough for me to re-read it anytime I feel that my prayer life needs another boost. I know that at some point, it will. So I will.

We all know that we should pray. Just before Christ taught His disciples to pray what we now call “The Lord’s Prayer,” He said, “When you pray…” and went on to instruct them to not to be like the hypocrites, to go into their room and pray in secret, and to not use vain repetitions. With each instruction, He began by saying “When you pray..,” indicating that prayer is expected. And rightly so, for his disciples (and we Christians today) love Him a tiny bit as much as He loves us; and in any loving relationship there must be communication. We communicate with our Lord through prayer.

Unfortunately, it is not always easy for us to fulfill this expectation to pray. Even though we know we should pray, there are times when prayer seems daunting or difficult, and we fall short. Author L. Joseph Letendre’s new book “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” is a helpful companion for such a time as this. It also serves as a preventative measure against future shortcomings in prayer! The book itself is not long, only 72 pages, but every page is useful to Orthodox Christians desiring to grow in prayer.

“When You Pray…” offers easily-understandable insights and encouragement for prayer. Each chapter covers a different way in which we should pray. Chapters include: “To Pray”; “Pray as You Can”; “Pray Attentively”; “Pray the Lord’s Prayer”; “Pray the Psalms”; “Pray the Gospel”; “Pray for Others”; ”Pray Frequently”; and “Pray Faithfully.”

This book is a must-read for Orthodox Christians who desire to strengthen their prayer life. We would encourage you to consider reading together as a family, in order to fortify the prayers of your entire “little church.” The book is written simply enough that upper-elementary or older children will be able to hear, understand, and begin to apply its wisdom. If you read the book together as a family, we recommend that you read one chapter at a time (even though each chapter consists of only a few pages, you may want to break some of them into even smaller parts, for maximum understanding), and discuss it together.

Regardless of how you read it, please read this book. It will help your prayers not to merely be “vain repetitions.” “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” will take you by the hand and help you learn how to pray effectively, from the heart.

Order your copy of “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/when-you-pray 

Here are a few gleanings from “When You Pray”:

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from Ch. 1: To Pray

“Prayer, like any relationship, involves sacrifice, which elevates prayer to a sacramental act… Underlying every sacramental deed is the certainty that only what is freely offered in and through Christ to the Father may be filled and transformed by the Spirit. Prayer is the way we place our day, our work, our relationships, our life, and our being on the altar, making them available to God to bless, sanctify, and, like the bread and wine of the Eucharist, transform into a means of communion with Him and with each other. Anyone who prays, or has tried to pray and given up in discouragement, knows praying—really praying—is not easy… The purpose of this book, then, is not to add to the burden but to ease it by distilling the advice and experience of those who pray.” (pp. 10-11, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

***
from Ch. 2: Pray as You Can

“The decision to do what one can, however seemingly small or inadequate, recurs throughout the Bible: a young shepherd hurls stones at a giant warrior; out of a crowd of famished thousands, a boy graciously offers what few loaves he has; Peter tells a lame beggar, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you” (Acts 3:6). The giant falls, the thousands are fed, and the beggar leaps to his feet. In prayer, all we need do is what we can.” (p. 15, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

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from Ch. 3: Pray Attentively

“…from St. John of Kronstadt: ‘When praying, keep to the rule that it is better to say five words from the depth of your heart than ten thousand words with your tongue only.’ It sounds fair. If I don’t pay attention to my prayers, why should God? Paying attention during prayer proved more difficult than I anticipated…

“Three highly recommended practices can help:

  1. Preparing for prayer
  2. Saying the words of our prayer slowly
  3. Praying aloud” (pp. 17-18, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

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from Ch. 4: Pray the Lord’s Prayer

“Without the right script, prayer can degenerate into telling God what He already knows, and then telling Him what we think He should do about it. [quoting Fr. Alexander Schmemann, quoting his teacher Archimandrite Cyprian Kern.] When Jesus’ disciples came to Him and asked, ‘Lord, teach us to pray,’ He responded by giving them a script: ‘When you pray, say: “Our Father . . .”’ (Luke 11:1, 2).” (p. 24, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

***
from Ch. 5: Pray the Psalms

“How many psalms should we pray? Monks and nuns are the Church’s experts in psalmic prayer. In monasteries and sketes that are able to follow the monastic rule fully, the entire Psalter—all 150 psalms—is read every week… To facilitate this, centuries ago, the Psalms were divided into twenty sections (called kathismas) and further divided into three subsections (called stases): thus, sixty sections of roughly equal length. So, one possibility is to pray one or more of these stases each day… If praying a stasis attentively is not possible, do less. Do one psalm. Do a few verses from one psalm. We should pray as many—or as few—psalms as we realistically can in the time we have. But we should never do none.” (p. 30, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

***
from Ch. 6: Pray the Gospel

“First, choose a short passage from the Gospels. It can be one event in the life of Christ, a section from the teachings of Jesus, even a single verse… In St. Athanasius’s Life of St. Anthony, we read how hearing just one verse from the Gospel in Church led Anthony into the desert to pursue the monastic life. Second, read the passage or verse out loud… Read it slowly. Then read it again. For writers across the centuries, the governing image here is “ruminating.” A ruminant (cows are the handiest example) is an animal that chews its cud. After it has eaten, it regurgitates its food and spends its time in a leisurely rechewing of its meal. When the saints advise ruminating on a passage of Scripture, they mean slowly ‘chewing over’ what we’ve read in our minds and our imagination.” (pp. 33-34, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

***
from Ch. 7: Pray for Others

“When we have completed our list, we move on—in trust and confidence—to the rest of our prayer, the rest of our day, or simply to our rest. It is not our prayer or the intensity of feeling we bring to it that matters; what matters is God’s grace. Through our prayers we have joined in the work God is already doing; we have united God’s will for them to our own.” (p. 37)

“Praying for others can be risky. The risk is that we will become part of God’s answer to our prayer. We should be ready for that.” (p. 39, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

(note: Prayer for our children is a top priority for us as parents. If you missed it, you may want to read our blog about one prayer that we can pray for their children: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/01/08/prayerful-sighing/)

***
from Ch. 8: Pray Frequently

“Few of us living ‘in the world’—meaning outside of monasteries—can pray without ceasing. Workday distractions and obligations, many of them part of our vocations, eat away at our time and attention. But even if we cannot pray ceaselessly, we can pray frequently. We can seize every opportunity the day affords us to pray briefly; we can pray on the run. Indeed, frequent prayer is essential if we are to grow in the Christian life and fulfill the commandments of Christ. Without frequent prayer, living the Christian life is all but impossible. As Jesus warned us, ‘Without Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5). Therefore, besides praying at the set times of our rule, we should make every event, activity, and transition in our day an opportunity for a brief prayer.” (p. 42, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

(Sounds a little like this recent blog post: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/08/09/on-practical-reminders-to-pray/)

***
from Ch. 9: Pray Faithfully

“Sometimes prayer is like going to the dentist. When serious work is required, the dentist injects Novocain into our gums so we feel nothing during the procedure. When we feel nothing during prayer, it could be that the deep healing has begun. This is the point where the act of prayer becomes a work of faith. We come to our chosen time, place, and rule of prayer. We are reluctant, procrastinating, distracted, and restless. We feel nothing, if not a little foolish. Nonetheless, we pray. The Latin word for ‘faith’ is credo, the source of our word ‘credit.’ At heart, it means ‘trust.’ To pray during the dry times is to trust that the emptiness within and the absence without constitute, in fact, a presence. To pray a few words while frantically running from task to task is to trust that God hears us even if we can’t hear Him. To have faith also means to act as if—as if God is real, as if God is there.” (pp. 59-60, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

***

Appendix: What Monasticism Teaches Us
“The two sources Orthodox Christians rely on most for instruction in prayer are, first, the Bible, and then the writings of the monastic Fathers. Their teachings can be broadly summarized in… seven principles…” (p. 63, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre) The principles follow on pages 63-65.

On Practical Reminders to Pray

“Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) is an exhortation St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Thessalonians. Such constant prayer sounds like a very Christian thing to do, a great idea, and a lofty goal that we should work towards someday. But have you ever read on beyond that short phrase? The very next verse continues, “…for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Wait, WHAT? Praying without ceasing is God’s will for us? Oh, boy… I don’t know about you, but I have got an awful lot of work to do if I wish to be living in a way that fulfills God’s will for me! (By the way, “Rejoice always” and “In everything give thanks” are the other two parts of that exhortation revealing God’s will for us, but we will address them at another time…) To be perfectly honest, I truly want to be the human that God created me to be. I want to be fulfilling His will for my life. But how in the world will I actually pray without ceasing? I wonder if you feel the same way?

I get so caught up in life, in what’s happening around me, that hours can pass when I do not pray. That’s hours of not living in God’s will for my life. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner! I hope that I am alone in this transgression. If so, forgive me (and pray for me!). But in case I am not alone and there are others of us in this community sharing my struggle, I will pass along a few ideas of ways that we can begin to pray more often, stepping closer and closer to “without ceasing.”

It seems to me that the easiest way for us to pray without ceasing is to make a physical connection of some sort to our daily life. We need some practical reminders to do that praying. Perhaps we can gather as a family and talk about creating prayer cues. What in our life can be used as a reminder, to help us to pray? It may be helpful to make a list of cues that we will look for each day, and then match prayers to those cues. (Remember to include scripture prayers as well as other ones!)

Here are a few examples (besides our morning, meal time, and evening prayers) of ways that our family is trying to remember to pray without ceasing. I will share them in case they resonate with you as well. (These are geared towards older people, since my children are now young adults.)

  1. Upon waking from sleep, pray one of St. Macarius the Great’s morning prayers, such as this one: “O Lord, Who in Thine abundant goodness and Thy great compassion hast granted me, Thy servant, to go through the time of the night that is past without attack from any opposing evil: Do Thou Thyself, O Master and Creator of all things, vouchsafe me by Thy true light and with an enlightened heart to do Thy will, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen”
  2. While showering, pray Archimandrite Sophronios’ prayer at daybreak (http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/prayers/daybreak.html).
  3. Our family lives three blocks from a hospital. Every time we hear a siren or helicopter, each member of our family pauses to pray for the person in need and their family. If we are in a conversation when the emergency vehicle passes, we make the sign of the cross, signaling our desire for God’s mercy on that person.
  4. The same concept applies for any siren: police, fire, etc. Let the noise be the reminder to pray! Clearly someone is in need, their family will be affected, and the first responders need God’s guidance, wisdom, and protection! So, we pray: “Lord, have mercy on them!”
  5. Keep a copy of St. John Chrysostom’s prayers for every hour by your desk or workspace. (I do this, but unfortunately I forget that it is there, so it is underutilized. I need to find a way to remember to pray these simple “arrow prayers.” Any ideas or suggestions? Perhaps I should set a reminder alarm?)
  6. My husband often prays through the alphabet at night if he is awakened and unable to go right back to sleep. He will think of someone whose name begins with each letter of the alphabet, and then pray for God’s mercy on them.

Okay, so I have listed a few ideas. But there are still many, many hours in a day. How else can we pray without ceasing? And how can a family with small children do so? If you have small children, consider praying very simple prayers aloud while performing daily tasks. Those simple prayers could include:
* While washing up before or cleaning sticky fingers after a meal, “I will wash my hands in innocence; so I will go about Your altar, O Lord.” (Ps. 26:6)

* While bathing: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Ps. 51:10) (or “Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Ps. 51:7))

* When brushing teeth, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” (Ps. 19:14)

*While putting on clothes or a coat, “…he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness…” (Is. 61:10)

*While turning on a light or lighting a candle, “O Lord, enlighten my heart, which evil desires have darkened.” (St. John Chrysostom’s hourly prayers)

*While watering plants, “Oh Lord, sprinkle my heart with the dew of Thy Grace.” (St. John Chrysostom’s hourly prayers)

*When planting or gardening, “O Lord, plant in me the root of all blessings, the fear of Thee in my heart.” (St. John Chrysostom’s hourly prayers)

*When locking a door, “O Lord, protect me from certain people, from demons and passions, and from every other harmful thing.” (St. John Chrysostom’s hourly prayers)

It may take a while for us to learn all of these prayers by heart and have them incorporated into our daily routine. Until then, perhaps we should print the prayers on small cards and adhere the cards in a location where we will see them as we go about our day. (In case you wish to use the above prayers, we have created a printable version of them.)

What physical cues do you use for constant prayer? Please share them below! In this way, we can help each other to pray without ceasing and thus walk in God’s will for us.

 

Here are a few links that you may find helpful as you grow in prayer without ceasing:

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Sign up for Orthodox Motherhood’s free 5-day email course, “Becoming a Family of Prayer,” here: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/. You’ll receive a daily email for five days in a row, each focused on a different aspect of helping your family to pray more. Each day’s email is brief but helpful and comes with printable worksheets that can better help you to grasp what the topic of the day is about.

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Orthodox Motherhood offers ideas of 50 times to pray The Jesus Prayer: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/50-times-say-jesus-prayer/

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Find additional morning prayers that you may wish to incorporate into your routine here: http://pomog.org/morningprayers-en/

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Find prayers for any time of day in prayer or service books, or at online sites such as this one: http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/prayers/

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We can, of course, also utilize a prayer rope to help us remember to pray! The Jesus Prayer is a wonderful way to pray through our prayer rope. We could also use the 33 different intercessions found here, one for each knot: https://fatherpatrick.wordpress.com/2008/09/15/33-intercessions-to-pray-using-a-33-knot-prayer-rope/ 
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St. John Chrysostom offers a one-line prayer for every hour of the day. Perhaps we should print this, laminate it, and place it at our desk, sink, fridge, or anywhere that we’ll see it regularly and can pray the hours. Read more about these prayers here: https://frted.wordpress.com/2012/07/29/prayers-for-each-hour-of-the-day/. Here is a printable version that could help you: St. John Chrysostom’s Hourly Prayers

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This not-Orthodox-but-helpful blog suggests ways to pray using the scriptures. There are even printable prayer-verse cards, so that we can put them in a space where we need the reminder! http://paththroughthenarrowgate.com/teach-us-to-pray-easy-verse-cards-set-one/

Gleanings From a Book: “We Pray” by Daniel Opperwall

I never expected to be charmed by a nonfiction book. However, “We Pray,” written by Daniel Opperwall and illustrated by Jelena and Marko Grbic is no ordinary nonfiction book! It is a beautiful Orthodox Christian children’s book that helps children (and those reading to/with them) think about prayer. Each spread of the book talks about a different aspect of prayer and includes some of the basic theology behind that aspect. Some pages offer specific prayers that we can pray, along with ways in which we pray (with incense, with a prayer rope, etc.). Other pages talk about where we pray, how we pray, what we pray, and for whom we pray. “We Pray” may be an informational book, but it is not at all tedious. Instead, the book has an almost lyrical tone, so the spiritual instruction in “We Pray” is both approachable and enjoyable.

But the tone of the book and the knowledge it imparts are not nearly the only charms of this book! Its physical size is lovely, too. Ancient Faith Publishing has printed “We Pray” in a very “holdable” size for children. At 8 ¼” square, the book is a comfortable size for children to hold. And even better than its size are the book’s delightful pictures! Jelena and Marko Grbic’s charming illustrations are both colorful and enticing. Each drawing is whimsical, yet true to the Faith. The book’s pages are quite sturdy, which was a smart design choice, because children will likely return to the illustrations again and again, taking in all the beautiful details included in each! (To be honest, adults will do the same. I have paged through this book countless times just to savor the illustrations!)

“We Pray” is an excellent addition to any Orthodox Christian library. Its readers will learn about prayer and be encouraged to pray more fervently. Its size and darling illustrations will appeal to children of all ages. My guess is that you, too, will find it charming!

To purchase your own copy of “We Pray,” visit http://store.ancientfaith.com/we-pray/.

Here are a few excerpts from the book, as well as some activities that you can do together as a family after reading it!

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“We pray with lighted incense, making smoke like sweetened flowers, for its scent is a reminder to turn our thoughts to God.” ~ from “We Pray” by Daniel Opperwall, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2017

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“We pray The Jesus Prayer each day, repeating and repeating, so that words of asking mercy may be written on our hearts.” ~ from “We Pray” by Daniel Opperwall, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2017

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“We pray for all our families and everyone we love, that God’s great love would bless them in their sadness or their joy.” ~ from “We Pray” by Daniel Opperwall, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2017

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“We pray for all the world, every child, man, and woman, that all may come to know God’s love and learn to seek His face.” ~ from “We Pray” by Daniel Opperwall, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2017

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Look closely at the illustrations in “We Pray.” Talk together about how they fit with the words. Consider discussing things like this: “Who is holding the long prayer rope on the prayer rope page, and what can we learn from someone like that? Why are the people in a tree on the family page? How do the souls in the giant hand look, on the departed page? Who is that angel behind the child on the page that talks about praying in silence? Why do you think the Grbics chose that Person to hold the chalice on the page where the children are about to receive communion? Which illustration is your favorite, and why?

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Can you find the hedgehogs in “We Pray?” Perhaps hedgehogs are not the first thing you think of when pondering the theology of prayer, but they are an excellent example the level of detail in this lovely book! Take a closer look at the artwork in this book. Challenge your family to fill out this printable counting page (WePrayCounting), just for fun. You can work together on it or print two copies, split up the family, and have a friendly competition to see who can find everything (and how many of each thing can be found!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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