Category Archives: Prayer

A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Chapter 6

Note: This series of blog posts will offer ideas of how to build up the little church in your home. The series will take a closer look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker. Each week we will take a look at one portion of the book and focus on the wisdom and ideas offered there. Find an overview of the entire book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/gleanings-from-a-book-blueprints-for-the-little-church-creating-an-orthodox-home-by-elissa-bjeletich-and-caleb-shoemaker/

We thank Elissa Bjeletich, Caleb Shoemaker, and Ancient Faith Publishing for granting us permission to share the book with you in this way. Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints

Chapter 6: Finding a Prayer Rule

The sixth chapter of “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” focuses on the family prayer rule. Bjeletich and Shoemaker offer their readers an insight which may be a new one: the word that has been translated “rule” from the Greek is related to the word “canon”, which means “guideline”. They suggest that readers consider their family’s prayer rule as a guideline.

The authors encourage families to begin establishing a family prayer rule by praying the Lord’s Prayer, adding the Trisagion prayers when they’re able, and then slowly building from there. They list typical prayers to consider adding along the way. They cite examples from their own families’ prayer rules.

The chapter urges its readers to add intercessions into to their family prayer times. The authors suggest ways to include children in intercessory prayer by inspiring children to add their friends to the prayer list and by suggesting ways that children of various ages can participate in intercessory prayer times.

The chapter closes with an admonishment to practice the family prayer rule together in such a way that builds longing for God in the heart of each family member.

 

Do you have a prayer rule question for the “Blueprints For the Little Church” authors? Connect with Elissa here: https://elissabjeletich.com/contact/ and email Caleb at caleb.shoemaker@gmail.com.

Here are a few gleanings from chapter 6:

***

“…a prayer rule, in its most simple definition, consists of those prayers we try to say each day when we say our prayers. For each Orthodox person, the guidelines will be a little different… The goal of prayer in the Orthodox life is the breath of the Spirit.” (p. 104, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Some families will begin with the Trisagion Prayers as the foundation of their prayer rule and allow it to grow from there. Regardless of what form your prayer rule takes, this is a good starting point.” (p. 106, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Before expecting your children to fall in line without hesitation, make sure personal prayer is a part of your daily discipline… it is vital to the success of your family’s prayer rule that the parents are making the effort to pray daily, no matter how briefly… Parents are the workmen who are building the little church, and the children will take their religious cues from them.” (pp. 106-107, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Making intercessions a regular part of your personal and family prayer rule is a powerful way to connect your family to those who are suffering, sick, alone, or departed.” (p. 111, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Once children are old enough to read, it is a good idea to get them their own copies of the prayer books you’re using. You could buy several copies, or you might consider printing up your family’s customized prayer rule.” (p. 112, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“‘Teaching them to say prayers is easy, teaching them to pray is harder. Look out for life situations that lend themselves to teaching about different types of prayer—thanksgiving, suppliation, asking forgiveness.’ —David, father of seven ”(p. 114, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

 

A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Chapter 5

Note: This series of blog posts will offer ideas of how to build up the little church in your home. The series will take a closer look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker. Each week we will take a look at one portion of the book and focus on the wisdom and ideas offered there. Find an overview of the entire book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/gleanings-from-a-book-blueprints-for-the-little-church-creating-an-orthodox-home-by-elissa-bjeletich-and-caleb-shoemaker/

We thank Elissa Bjeletich, Caleb Shoemaker, and Ancient Faith Publishing for granting us permission to share the book with you in this way. Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints

Chapter 5: Developing Your Rhythm

All Christians must find time to pray, and the “Little Church” benefits greatly from praying together. The fifth chapter of “Blueprints for the Little Church” focuses on encouraging families to be intentional in planning time for prayer in their family schedule. Authors Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker advocate that their readers to look closely at their most precious commodity: at their time. They urge parents to consider how to budget their family’s schedule in such a way that prayer is not a “tacked on” extra, but is actually a significant part of the daily routine.

The chapter doesn’t just encourage its readers to find time for prayer: it also reminds the reader how important prayer is, and how valuable it is for parents to teach their children to pray by praying with them. The authors suggest a few basic prayer times, and offer several sample schedules. But they recognize that even the best-laid schedule cannot be adhered to at all times. They recommend that for such times, families be prepared to do what they can to stick to the rhythm of prayer they’ve set up for their household, but when they can’t do that, well, then they need to give themselves some grace. (And pick up and continue the rhythm as soon as possible.)

The main thrust of this chapter is that “Little Churches” must pray together. Family prayer times will not happen unless they are intentionally planned and carried out. This chapter offers its readers a push in the direction of making that planning happen.

 

Do you have a question for the “Blueprints For the Little Church” authors? Connect with Elissa here: https://elissabjeletich.com/contact/ and email Caleb at caleb.shoemaker@gmail.com.

Here are a few gleanings from chapter 5:

***

“Making time for prayer can be one of the greatest struggles for families. There are so many other activities pulling and fighting for our attention that adding one more thing can be overwhelming. Between sports practice, weekly church service, full-time jobs, driver’s ed, and ballet class, it can be hard enough for a family to eat a meal together, let alone say a full prayer rule.” (p. 92, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“The Church in her wisdom offers us a healthy rhythm that leads us to a wholesome and good routine. Instead of the frantic pace of a family spinning out of control, the Church provides an intentional, peaceful rhythm that is firmly grounded in prayer and love.” (p. 93, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Just as we work out our financial budgets, we must budget our most precious commodity, time. Take some time… to go over your weekly time budget… Identify those gaps of time each day when everyone is usually present (barring unforeseen events) and establish those few minutes for family prayer.” (pp. 94-95, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Find the rhythm that works for you. Your house is an extension of the parish and a microcosm of Christ’s Church. Learn to celebrate this and make your home a place where prayer, silence, work, and sacred fellowship are the norm rather than the occasional treat.” (p. 96, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Family prayer is essential, and it should be prioritized— but the timing will vary for each family. It is best if families work out their own rhythm, so long as the critical elements of family prayer and study are always included.” (p. 101, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

What about those times when you just can’t do it? Naturally, there is no need to be legalistic about these rhythms, and when extraordinary circumstances arise, the rhythm should be flexible… The important thing is to make room for prayers in your routine.” (p. 102, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

 

A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Chapter 4

Note: This series of blog posts will offer ideas of how to build up the little church in your home. The series will take a closer look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker. Each week we will take a look at one portion of the book and focus on the wisdom and ideas offered there. Find an overview of the entire book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/gleanings-from-a-book-blueprints-for-the-little-church-creating-an-orthodox-home-by-elissa-bjeletich-and-caleb-shoemaker/

We thank Elissa Bjeletich, Caleb Shoemaker, and Ancient Faith Publishing for granting us permission to share the book with you in this way. Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints

 

Chapter 4: Creating Sacred Space

The fourth chapter of “Blueprints for the Little Church” encourages its readers to set up prayerful space in their homes. The authors encourage their readers to create a sacred space, a “family altar”, where they regularly meet to pray together. This space may begin with only an icon or two, but can grow until it includes many items that enhance our worship at Church, as well: multiple icons, candles, incense, holy water, etc.

The chapter talks its readers through selecting a location and icons, then taking each small step needed to prepare both the space and the family for worshipping in that space. It addresses the use of candles and incense in family worship. Readers are encouraged to have, use, and drink holy water in this space. They are also encouraged to acquire some holy oil to keep here for use, as needed. It also discusses the creation and use of a vigil lamp in the family worship space.

As is the case in the rest of the book, throughout this chapter the authors have included related quotes from families other than their own. Each cites their own experience while encouraging readers to set up their home’s altar in a way that works best for the members of their own family. The chapter is helpful for readers of all levels of Orthodox experience: it will be useful to readers who are starting from scratch, but it will also offer the opportunity of re-evaluation to those who have a family altar that has been used for decades.

Do you have a parenting question for the “Blueprints For the Little Church” authors? Connect with Elissa here: https://elissabjeletich.com/contact/ and email Caleb at caleb.shoemaker@gmail.com.

 

Here are a few gleanings from chapter 4:

***

“Setting up an icon corner is a crucial part of building your little church. Just as our church buildings are elaborately adorned with images of Christ, His Mother, and the saints, our homes reproduce this in small scale with a family icon corner.” (p. 71, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Each family will bring their own flavor to the icon corner, and no two will be exactly alike. What all family altars have in common is that they are the gathering place for prayer and worship in the daily rhythm of life.” (p. 73, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Begin with two icons: Christ and the Theotokos. If all you have is a cross, that’s a good starting place, too… If you only have one icon, place it in a conspicuous location in your house and use it for prayer. If you have no printed icons, you have your children and your spouse to pray with you—the living icons of Christ in your life!” (p. 75, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Lighting candles and burning incense also help to shore up the notion that we are bringing the parish into our own home and  that our houses are places where Christ and His angels and saints are welcome.” (p. 78, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“Most Orthodox families will receive holy water once or twice a year to bring home. St. John Maximovitch recommended getting enough to last you the whole year and making sure you drink some every chance you get.” (p. 82, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“To use [holy oil]: Place a little of the oil on your finger and make the sign of the cross on the forehead of the person being blessed. This can be a very powerful and emotional experience for parents and their children. Don’t hurry. Pray for each person and sign their head with a cross in the name of the Trinity. You may find your children crave this special connection between the two of you and the saint to whom you are praying.” (p. 87, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

“As you set out to create sacred space in your home, know that you cannot do this wrong. Set aside a space in your home and let your icon corner develop as it suits your family best. The important thing is to gather together in prayer and to make room in your home to live out your faith.” (pp. 88-89, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

***

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich

Do you find yourself ready for a retreat because summer – or life in general – is getting to you? Does life feel stormy, or are there clouds threatening the horizon of your heart? If so, a little spa time is just what you need! We often think of pampering our bodies when we are weary and heavy laden. Sometimes physical rest and relaxation is in order, and it truly helps us. But often afterwards, we get back home and into life again, and we find ourselves right back in a stormy, weary place, wishing we could return to the spa…

What would happen if we would choose to spend our “spa” time and energy on preparing to soothe our soul through prayer? We could then set up an all-encompassing prayer space that ministers to our body as well as our soul. We could also make a plan to restructure our life to include spending time in that space each day, praying.

But how would we go about creating such a space and implementing such a change? “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” offers solutions to this question. The book is full of reasons for us to bathe our souls in peaceful prayer. And it doesn’t simply scold us with reasons to straighten out our prayer life: it gently takes us by the hand, introducing us to practical means to do so.

This book is, in itself, a retreat. Each entry is simultaneously soothing and thought provoking. It is written thoughtfully, and every page is poetry which engages the mind while challenging the reader’s thoughts. Themed chapters help the reader think from a distinctly Orthodox Christian perspective about topics related to prayer. They are as follows: Mind…Body…Soul; The Five Senses; Your Prayer Plan; Inner Stillness; An Offering; The Hours; Tools for Therapy. (Readers will likely find the “Tools for Therapy” chapter to become the most visited chapter. It includes a few ideas for ways to invite your body to join in prayer, as well as pages and pages of prayers, ranging from Psalms for each of the Hours to morning and evening prayers.) The author’s near-exclusive use of lower case is intentional; whispering her ideas and findings instead of shouting them, enhancing their soft allure. The final pages of the book are supplements that include a reproducible prayer card for your daily prayer plan, pages of scripture verses to memorize and pray, and recommended books (featuring an important quote from each) for further growth.

In Orthodoxy, we often invite the world to “come and see” what The Faith is all about. The same applies to this book. Attempting to describe it is one thing: but experiencing it is something else completely. The author’s intent with the book is “to bring the hidden wisdom of early christian luminaries to those in the twenty-first century who may not yet have come to experience this tangible way to love your God, your neighbor, and yourself within the fabric of daily life.” (p. 108) She has succeeded. “Prayer Spa” is at once a tall drink of cool water on a hot day and a sturdy lighthouse in a stormy sea. You may wish to “come and see” for yourself.

Whether or not we adopt all of the ideas in “Prayer Spa,” let us embrace its challenge to be intentional in our prayers. Let us indeed commune with God daily, with our whole self, through prayer, thus nourishing our soul. This is the kind of “spa time” that we truly need. Anchoring our life in prayer brings calm and peace to our souls, even in the storms of life.

Thanks to Paraclete Press for sharing a copy with the AODCE so that we could read it and write this review.

Purchase your own copy here: https://paracletepress.com/products/prayer-spa
Here are a few gleanings from the book:

***

“you are a gifted creature

created in the image of God

given the gifts of mind…body…soul.

dip your toe into living water and drench your soul in prayer.

how can I begin?

you ask.

begin with intention.

begin with practice.

begin with love.” (p. 12, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

***

“the spa has offered therapeutic baths

for healing and purification

from ancient greece to modern times.

 

prayer is a preparation of your interior well

to receive God’s gift of grace, and to offer living water

from an abundant source to those around you.” (p. 18, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

***

“determine to commit yourself to prayer every day.

enfold your life into the life of Christ

for the temporal and eternal benefits.” (p. 33, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

***

“the beloved Jesus Prayer, in its radical simplicity

sums up the whole gospel.

the incarnation, the sovereignty of Christ, and our very salvation are all there.” (p. 44, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

***

“remember you are a human being, not a human doing

—a child of God.” (p. 49, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

***

“an oasis in time can materialize

by insisting on an annual personal prayer retreat.

 

discover a monastery, guest house, or quiet room

within your range—any secluded space will suffice—

and treat yourself to 24-48 hours of cloistered retreat

 

this is a solitary ritual for you and God alone

a time to pray, to journal, to rest

to read spiritual books, to quiet your mind to consider the year behind you and the year ahead.” (p. 58, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

***

“on this swiftly tilting planet

where humans have fallen down before their Creator

century after century, in awe…

at times this “enlightened” society seems to have forgotten God.

 

praying the hours is an antidote to this forgetful world.” (p. 66, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

***

“if you have children, let them catch you praying.

share these short remembrances of God with them.

let them discover your own yearning for prayer

as a treat you quietly prioritize each day.

remember, you too are a child of God, beloved.” (p. 69, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)

***

 

Lenten Sundays Series: The Sunday of St. Gregory of Palamas

This is the fourth in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share a little about that week’s focus, including related quotes from Church fathers and/or scriptures that can be helpful to our spiritual growth. We will share each blog early, to give you time to read it before that particular Sunday arrives. It is our hope that, by taking a few minutes to study these Sundays before the day arrives, we will be better prepared to partake in all that the Church has to offer us through this beautiful season of the year.

On this second Sunday of Great Lent, we commemorate St. Gregory of Palamas’ successful defense of the Orthodox belief that humans can both know and experience God. He asserted that we can know with our minds that God exists, and we can also experience Him through His uncreated energies. This flew in the face of the teachings of Barlaam, a critic of St. Gregory’s and of hesychasm in general.

St. Gregory was born in 1296 to a prominent family in Constantinople. His father died when Gregory was still young. The youth was so bright and hardworking that the emperor himself took interest in Gregory, helping to raise and educate him in the hopes that he would one day hold a high government position.

But Gregory left all of the glamor of Constantinople’s elite behind when he departed for Mount Athos at age 20 to become a monk. (And he was not the only member of his family to do this. Shortly thereafter, His mother and sisters also became monastics.) As a monk on Mt. Athos, Gregory learned about “Hesychasm,” a very calm, still way to pray. He mastered this prayer of the heart, and thus we know him as a “hesychast.”

In 1326, Gregory went to Thessalonica and was ordained to the priesthood. He lived the life of a hermit on weekdays, silently praying alone and away from the world. On the weekends, he would celebrate the holy services in his parish and he would preach so beautifully that his sermons brought his listeners to tears.

When Barlaam, a bright and studious monk, came to Mt. Athos and heard about hesychasm, he proclaimed it to be heresy. He insisted that it is not possible for humans to know God’s essence or to experience His energies such as uncreated light. His dissent caused quite a stir, and Gregory was called to debate with Barlaam about this. Gregory’s studies in the world and his experience as a hesychast put him in the perfect position for this debate.

Gregory first tried to speak to Barlaam about all of this, but speaking did not seem to make any progress, so he began to write prolifically about the prayer of the heart and its validity. Although Gregory was writing a lot, they continued to meet and debate in person as well. One of these debates was before the 1341 Council of Constantinople, which took place in Hagia Sophia. This time, they were arguing about the Transfiguration. Gregory stood by the Orthodox belief that God revealed Himself to the disciples on Mt. Tabor, by using His Divine Energies. Barlaam said theirs was not an actual experience of God: just a helpful gift to the disciples, who couldn’t really experience God because they are humans.

The members of the Council upheld Gregory’s position as the truly Orthodox position. They agreed that God, Whose Essence we cannot approach, chooses to reveal Himself through His Energies. Humans can see those Energies, such as the light that the disciples could see on Mt. Tabor. After the Council ruled that Barlaam’s teachings were heresy, Barlaam fled to Calabria.

In spite of the ruling, some people still argued against Gregory, even locking him up in prison for 4 years at one point. However, the very next patriarch released him and made him Archbishop of Thessalonica. In his later years, God gave Gregory the gift to perform miracles, including healing the sick, and he was granted a vision of St. John Chrysostom on the night before he died. His last words were, “To the heights! To the heights!”

Thanks to St. Gregory Palamas, the Church has maintained the truth that we humans are able to experience God through His uncreated energies. St. Gregory’s life of dedication to God and His Church, as well as his willingness to stand for truth set him apart as a wonderful example to all of us. Sometimes people refer to the Sunday of St. Gregory of Palamas as “The Sunday of Orthodoxy Part Two”, since his defense saved the Orthodox Church when it was under a second major attack.

The Gospel reading for this second Sunday of Lent is the story of the paralytic whose four friends lowered him through the roof of the place where Christ was so that he could be healed by Him. Our Lord not only healed his legs, making him able to walk again, but also healed his sins, telling him, “Your sins are forgiven you.” How beautiful it is for us to be reminded, right here near the beginning of Great Lent that the truth of our Faith is worth standing up for, as did St. Gregory; at the same time receiving the reassurance that Christ is waiting for us to come to Him so that He can heal both our soul and our body.

St. Gregory of Palamas, please intercede for us and for our salvation.

 

Here are a few quotes from St. Gregory of Palamas for you to ponder throughout the week, as well as a few links that you may find helpful as you learn more about him as a family:

***

“Let not one think, my fellow Christian, that only priests and monks need to pray without ceasing and not laymen No, no; every Christian without exception ought to dwell always in prayer.” ~ St. Gregory of Palamas

***
“For our love for God is demonstrated above all by the way we endure trials and temptations.” ~ St. Gregory of Palamas

***
“It is pointless for someone to say that he has faith in God if he does not have the works which go with faith. What benefit were their lamps to the foolish virgins who had no oil (Mt. 25:1-13), namely, deeds of love and compassion?” ~ St. Gregory of Palamas

***
“If from one burning lamp someone lights another, then another from that one, and so on in succession, he has light continuously. In the same way, through the Apostles ordaining their successors, and these successors ordaining others, and so on, the grace of the Holy Spirit is handed down through all generations and enlightens all who obey their shepherds and teachers.” ~ St. Gregory of Palamas

***
“… Adam chose the treason of the serpent, the originator of evil, in preference to God’s commandment and counsel, and broke the decreed fast. Instead of eternal life he received death and instead of the place of unsullied joy he received this sinful place full of passions and misfortunes, or rather, he was sentenced to Hades and nether darkness. Our nature would have stayed in the infernal regions below the lurking places of the serpent who initially beguiled it, had not Christ come. He started off by fasting (cf. Mk. 1:13) and in the end abolished the serpent’s tyranny, set us free and brought us back to life.” ~ St. Gregory of Palamas

***
Find a few suggested ways to help your family learn about St. Gregory of Palamas here: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/3-5-years-old/gregory-palamas

***

“We can think of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and obedience as the four friends that help us come before Christ and be healed.” Read the article about the Sunday of St. Gregory of Palamas that ends this way, and find ideas of ways to learn about/ discuss its themes here: https://www.goarch.org/documents/32058/2618758/familygospellesson_gregory.pdf/fcd465fc-bc96-4161-b062-9172d6271629

 

Gleanings From a Book: “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis

Reading through the Psalter is a beautiful discipline at any time, but especially during a lenten period. Sharing this experience with friends is even more lovely. Over the years, I’ve been part of several lenten Psalter groups. Alongside my sisters (and some brothers) in Christ in these groups, I have both struggled and enjoyed the process of reading twice through the Psalms during a particular lenten period. When I heard about Sylvia Leontaritis’ new book “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women,” I was excited to have this pretty-covered version of the Psalter to be my companion book as I pray.

What I did not expect was the chance to pray the Psalter while feeling that I was sharing the experience with a wise best friend. Both Sylvia’s heart for God and her desire to live a truly Orthodox life pour out through her words, simultaneously challenging and encouraging her readers in a way that is usually reserved for dear friends. The tone in which she writes welcomes the reader to embrace her observations, ponder them, and then consider how to implement the ideas for their own growth.

The book begins with a few introductory pages which offer some background and suggested ways to use it; an explanation of what a Psalter group is; and many quotes from Holy Fathers about the importance of reading/praying the Psalms. Prayers to pray before and after the reading are included next. After that, the book settles into a routine. Each kathisma (grouping of chapters from the book of Psalms)’s text is printed right in the book, in numerical order. Every kathisma is printed with a very wide margin, so that readers can make notes right there in the book, by particular verses, as desired. Following each kathisma, Sylvia has written a short meditation (2-3 pages) in which she focuses on a theme from that kathisma or on a particular verse found therein. These meditations are concise, but beautifully insightful and stimulating. Each meditation also includes a related quote from a saint or Church Father which enhances the meditation.

Following each meditation are a number of lined pages for journaling. These pages offer the reader space to make this book their own, as they “chew” on a particular portion of the kathisma or interact with Sylvia’s meditation. These pages are a place to record thoughts and learnings. Each journaling section is large enough that even if the reader is one who regularly joins Psalter groups, there’s plenty of space to write, even multiple times. Readers who jot notes and learnings every time they pray the kathismas will find the book to become a record of their own growth, as they read back over what (and how) they were learning at points along their journey.

The Psalms address a variety of problems/difficult circumstances common to humankind. Sylvia mentions in her introduction that St. Arsenios of Cappadocia considered the Psalms to be a Book of Needs. “Songs of Praise” closes with a topical index of Psalms, as gleaned from St. Arsenios. The index makes appropriate Psalms easy to find and read in an hour of need.

Orthodox Christian women who desire to grow in their journey with God will be grateful for this beautiful tool. “Songs of Praise” has the potential to greatly help any woman who will put some thought, time, and prayer into her study of the Psalter. All who set aside time to read it carefully, meditating on the words with pen in hand, will be blessed.

Sylvia writes in the introduction that her hope “is that this book will inspire women everywhere to make the art of praying the Psalter part of their daily routine. I pray it will encourage each of us to put down our devices, let go of the trivial and temporary connections they entice us with, and reach for something better that will connect us eternally. Make the following pages feel like home to you—highlight, scribble, circle, dog-ear, tape photos, and refer back to them whenever your heart needs a hug…. I’m so grateful to be walking hand in hand with you as we strive to learn God’s ways and offer up these songs of praise.” (pp. 6-7)

I am of the opinion that Sylvia’s book has accomplished her mission. It has, at least, for me. I have already been blessed through this first reading, and I look forward to reading it more carefully again (and again!) and gleaning even more wisdom and encouragement.

Find “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/songs-of-praise-a-psalter-devotional-for-orthodox-women/

Here are some gleanings from the book:

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“Even if I’m having a rough day—perhaps especially if I’m having a rough day—focusing my thoughts on all the good things in life always chases away the negative. It’s hard to be discontented when you’re counting your blessings.
Prayer journaling is a great way to remind yourself of all the ways God works in your life. It’s a creative way to express your thoughts and feelings to God. After all, isn’t that what the psalms were to David as he wrote them?”

(p. 26, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“The world needs more women who are courageous enough to do what makes them holy—not happy. Women should be confident in their natural beauty… True beauty moves in stages, and we should trust God to continue transforming us into what He created us to be… Beside my bed, I have icons of some of my favorite Orthodox women… They are the women I look up to, the ones I want to be like ‘when I grow up.’ And I’ll tell you, I can’t imagine a single one of them fretting over gray hairs or crow’s feet.”

(pp 77-78. , “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“It hurts to be broken, but how we react to that pain is what determines whether it turns us into diamonds or destroys us. Pain can make us bitter and afraid, or it can make us strong and courageous so that we have nothing to fear when the hour of trial arrives yet again.”

(p. 96, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“I remember hearing that when a holy person enters a place, he or she can immediately sense its spiritual atmosphere. I have often wondered what our home feels like to a spiritual person.
As keepers of a home, we are largely responsible for that atmosphere. Not only should our homes be clean and welcoming, they should be spiritual.”

(p. 134, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“Many times we read about saints, such as St. John the Baptist and St. Seraphim of Sarov, who left the world and went into the wilderness for a certain amount of time to reconnect with God. This wasn’t a concept for them alone; it is a call to every one of us. It is a call to remind us that every so often we need to take a time-out, leave our worldly cares behind, and seek Him in the wilderness.”

(p. 170, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“Take control of the things you grant entrance into your heart. Be watchful of the things you pacify yourself with. Give thanks for the mundane and savor the simple. Most often, the most extraordinary things in our lives aren’t really things at all and are hidden away in the most ordinary of days.”

(p. 189, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“As Orthodox Christians, we don’t go door to door preaching our faith; we live it in our own lives and trust God to do the rest. There’s a common misconception out there that Christians are supposed to be perfect. But you know what? There’s no such thing. A good Christian is not perfect. A good Christian is struggling. We do our best to follow the path of Christ, but we will fall a million times along the way. What makes us different is that we have the Church to help us up each and every time we fall, through the Mystery of Confession.”

(p. 226, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“For us as busy women, it’s impossible not to multitask to some extent, but as Orthodox women, we have to remember the healing power of being still. It’s in those moments of stillness that the fog is wiped from our glasses and we see life for what it truly is—a beautiful mess. The days are long sometimes, but the years are much too short. I, for one, want to stop and breathe in every crazy-beautiful-messy moment I’m blessed to see.”

(p. 259, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

***

46523739_10215763335788148_6425190565654036480_n-001“Life is so much fuller when we set limitations on the virtual world. There’s more time to read or knit or take a walk or snuggle with our littles without distraction. Decide which life is really worth investing in—your spiritual life or your virtual one—and then fill it with the things that truly make your heart happy. If we struggle to fill our lives with good and spiritual things and constantly have prayer on our lips, there will be no room left for the unholy.”

(p. 314, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

***

“As parents, our number one priority is to teach our children to live as true Orthodox Christians. Otherwise, the world will teach them not to.”

(p. 332, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“The lives of the saints are living examples of how to live a life dedicated to God in a fallen and sinful world. They teach us how to overcome our passions and grow spiritually. The saints are arrows in our spiritual quiver. Everything about their lives points the way to Him. Let us never doubt or underestimate the power of their speedy intercessions.

‘What does the daily invocation of the saints signify? It signifies that God’s saints live, and are near us, ever ready to help us, by the grace of God. we live together with them in the house of our Heavenly Father, only in different parts of it. We can converse with them, and they with us. God’s saints are near to the believing heart, and are ready in a moment to help those who call upon them with faith and love.’ ~ St. John of Kronstadt”

(pp. 350-351, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“Even in our day and age, there are so many people in need of the most basic of life’s necessities. While we may not be able to make a difference for everyone, if we just make a difference for someone, that is enough.”

(p. 365, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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If “Songs of Praise: a Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis inspires you to do more journaling related to the scriptures, you may find some of the ideas in this blog post helpful:

https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/02/03/on-learning-the-scriptures-by-creating-a-scripture-journal/

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Gleanings from a Book: “I Pray Today” by Angela Isaacs

Parents desiring to raise their children in the Faith know that their children need to embrace the Faith for themselves. These parents must help their children begin to nurture their very own relationship with Christ and His Church. One of the most powerful ways a parent can do this is by leading their child(ren) into a life of prayer. Angela Isaacs’ new board book, “I Pray Today,” clearly models what it means to live a life of prayer. This book will help parents to help their children begin to live a life of prayer. It begins thus:

Good morning, God. The day is new.
I say my first small prayer to You.
Lord, have mercy.

“I Pray Today” takes its readers by the hand and guides them through a day in the life of a young girl. Throughout her day, she wakes, eats, misses a sick friend, plays, gets hurt, and eventually unwinds and goes to bed, just like we all do. But at every turn, she prays, “Lord, have mercy.” (Well, one time she forgets, oops! But Daddy helps her to remember!)

Angela Isaacs has beautifully worded this book. Throughout her day, the little girl’s activities are conveyed in rollicking verses that are fun to read and delightful to hear. The clever rhymes are likely to be memorized in a short time, after a few re-readings. And at each moment, there’s a “Lord, have mercy!” as she turns to Christ in prayer throughout her day. Children will be drawn to the verses, and want to read the book again and again.

The illustrations in this book are simple and charming. Amandine Wanert uses child-level perspective (with an occasional “birds eye” for variety) to help children feel that they are right there in the young girl’s day. Readers will be drawn into the girl’s world and will recognize there elements of their own life. There are just enough details in each illustration to make it believable, without overwhelming the eye. Orthodox children will also find details like crosses and icons in her world which they recognize from their own world. Children will absorb these details and be comforted by their simplicity.

“I Pray Today” gently teaches its readers the value of prayer while also modeling what it looks like to pray throughout the day. Readers of all ages will enjoy this book. Children will like the lyrical wording and lovely illustrations, and adults will treasure its message. This book is a must for a Christian family’s library.

 

You can find “I Pray Today” here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/i-pray-today-board-book/

 

Here are a few related links and ideas that can help you as you share “I Pray Today” with the children in your life:
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“I Pray Today” author Angela Isaacs recently went on a blog tour, wherein she was a guest blogger on other blogs. On this tour, she wrote blogs related to her book. Find the first one here (and links to the others at the bottom of the page): https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/raisingsaints/guest-post-from-angela-isaacs-what-parenting-taught-me-about-a-life-of-prayer/
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Even children older than toddlers will benefit from hearing/reading “I Pray Today.” Families with children of varied ages can read the book as part of a family discussion on prayer. After reading it, talk together about how to make God an important part of every part of each day. When is a good time to pray? Talk together about times in the day when your family prays. Invite ideas of additional times you could pray. If your children like to draw and/or write, you may wish to use this printable to help them commit to praying at one of those times.
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If “I Pray Today” strikes a chord with your family and you decide together to pursue a more fervent prayer life, you may find this blog helpful: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/08/09/on-practical-reminders-to-pray/
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Parents and older children may want to ponder this quote from St. Ambrose of Optina: “Pray for yourself and seek only the mercy and will of God; whether you are in church or outside of church walking, sitting or lying down, pray, ‘Lord have mercy, however you think best, however you will.’”

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Parents desiring to boost their own personal prayer times may want to read this blog (and the book which it features): https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/08/30/gleanings-from-a-book-when-you-pray-a-practical-guide-to-an-orthodox-life-of-prayer-by-l-joseph-letendre/