Category Archives: Scriptures

Gleanings from a Book: “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

Author’s note: This book has been sitting on my shelf for a few months – ever since the author sent it my way. I promised to read it and share it with you, but wanted to wait until nearer the time of the Nativity Fast so that it would be more fresh in our minds as the fast approaches. Every time I saw the book sitting there waiting for me I inwardly smiled as I anticipated reading it. The Nativity Fast is the one we anticipate next, and we can begin to think about it, so I finally allowed myself to pull this book off of my shelf and read it! As expected, it did not disappoint.

This book reminds me of just how very much I love stories from the Scriptures. From Creation to Noah to Abraham to Joseph, on through the kings and prophets, all the way to the birth of Christ; each of the 40 stories in this book helps the reader to learn more about Christ and how God prepared the world for His coming. Every story points us to Christ in some way, and they build on each other, referencing previous stories throughout the book.

I grew up hearing Bible stories over and over again. They are my old friends. It was delightful to re-visit so many of these friends as I read this book. There are also a few stories with which I was unfamiliar, so I soaked them in like a sponge, and made some new friends! (I was raised Protestant, so the stories such as those of Tobit and Tobias, not included in the Protestant scriptures, as well as many details from Holy Tradition about the Theotokos’ upbringing and marriage were unfamiliar to me.) The stories in “Welcoming the Christ Child” are written in a manner that is true to both Scriptures and Tradition while also remaining understandable to children.

While I loved reading the stories themselves, I also really enjoyed the insights which the author has included after the stories. Every story has at least 3 related questions (and their answers, too!) that can help readers think about the story. There is also an advanced discussion suggestion for each story. Between the stories, the questions, and the advanced discussion suggestion, every story’s important role in pointing people to Christ is explained in a way that is very easy to understand. Families with young children may only want to read the story. Those with older children can also include the questions. Those with even older children will want to take advantage of the advanced discussion. Families with children of varied ages will find aspects of the book helpful for each child.


Every story in the book has a watercolor illustration either embedded in or immediately following the story. Some of these illustrations are simple, featuring a detail from the story. Others are more elaborate, illustrating an important event in the story. All are colorful and eye-catching, painted in an icon-like style that can help children make better sense of the icon for the story.

So, as we approach the Nativity Fast, let us begin to make our plan of how to grow throughout it. We fast in order to prepare our hearts for the birth of our Lord. One way we can prepare is by spending some time each day reading about Him and about those whose lives pointed to Him before He was born into our world. This book is an excellent way for us to do this very thing together with our children. My only regret with the book is that it was not published 10 years ago, when I could have used it with my own (now grown) children!

Purchase your own copy of “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich here: http://www.sebastianpress.org/product-p/sp-bk-ch-2017-001.htm

Here are some gleanings from the book, followed by suggestions of ways to use the ideas in the book to help your family grow in faith during the Nativity Fast.

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“Why would Adam need company? Because he is made in the image of God, and God is love; God is a community of three Persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and Adam is created in God’s image, so Adam is also created to be part of a community of love.” ~ p. 10, Advanced Discussion Idea after “God Creates People,” a reading in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

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“We sometimes say that the Holy Church is like Noah’s ark – it is built according to God’s specific instructions so that we can be saved: He tells us to love one another, to fast and to pray, to receive the sacraments. We trust God and His Word, and God protects us inside our Holy Church from the storms outside.” ~ p. 20, part of the answer to “What if Noah had not followed God’s careful instructions and had built the ark in a different way?” a question after “Noah’s Ark,” a reading in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

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“The Church Fathers describe Joseph as being, in many ways, like Jesus. He didn’t do anything wrong, but other people envied him… both of them were betrayed for a small amount of money… Both went into a pit – Joseph was thrown in the dark pit until the slave traders came, and Jesus was in the dark pit of Hades after His crucifixion.” ~ p. 35, part of the Advance Discussion Idea after “Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors,” a reading in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

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“Rahab was not one of God’s Israelites, but she learned about God and chose to serve Him and His people… Rahab was rewarded by being allowed to live in israel, but she also received another reward: she was given a place in the line of Christ. …Rahab, a harlot from Jericho, became a part of that royal line that led to the king of kings, for God loves all people and includes all of us in His family.” ~ p. 70, part of the Advance Discussion Idea after “Joshua and the Battle of Jericho,” a reading in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

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“God actually used David’s weakness to teach us. When he fought Goliath, the fact that David was small and weak showed us that God must have helped him win. Later in his life, David’s other weakness, his sinfulness, enabled him to teach us how to repent; he wrote beautiful Psalms about repentance…
The prophets reveal God to us, but they are not perfect. Sometimes, God uses our weakness to reveal His glory.” ~ p. 86, part of the Advance Discussion Idea after “David the Psalmist,” a reading in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

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“Why did God give so many hints about the coming of His Son?

“He wanted the people to know He was coming so that they would be ready for Him; they should expect Him and be prepared to follow Him. he gave them details so that they could recognize Him when He came. ~ p. 120, discussion question and answer after “The Prophet Isaiah,” a reading in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

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“The Fathers call Mary the new Eve, because in the Garden of Eden, the first Eve disobeyed God’s commandment not to eat the fruit of the tree, causing mankind to fall – but Mary is like a second chance, and this woman is obedient to God’s will and wishes only to do what is pleasing to God and best for mankind. Where Eve ignored God and did what she wanted, Mary does not worry about her own desires or wish to explore other ideas. Mary trusts God, and is happy to cooperate with God’s will, so she says yes to the angel. The child she bears will fix the fall, saving mankind from death and opening the gates of Paradise.” ~ pp. 147-148, Advanced Discussion Idea after “The Annunciation,” a reading in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

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“God can do anything, and He could have arranged for His own Son, the King of Kings, to be born in a palace but He did not; He chose for His Son to be born in a humble cave… He came to live in the humblest way, to share the most basic human experiences…He would live like the poorest people and suffer alongside us through all of the indignities of our world. The first people called to worship Him were poor and uneducated shepherds, because God does not care whether we are important to the world; every one of us in important in God’s eyes , and our Lord has come for each and every one of us.” ~ p.159, Advanced Discussion Idea after “A Child is Born in Bethlehem,” a reading in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

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Are you acquainted with the Orthodox Jesse Tree as a way to prepare your heart for the Nativity during that fast? (http://www.antiochian.org/christianeducation/tree-jesse describes it, and http://antiochian.org/content/advent-reading-jesse-tree lists all of the scripture passages) If you are, then “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” will seem very familiar to you. The book is set up to be read daily during Nativity Lent, and is patterned after the Jesse Tree Project.

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Jesse Tree ornament options:
#1: Soon there will be a set of Jesse Tree ornaments available for purchase which go along with “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich. We will post the link to the ornaments as soon as we have it!

#2: Families with younger children may want to make their own 3D, touchable ornaments such as these https://festalcelebrations.wordpress.com/2007/12/27/jesse-tree-project-2008/ which coincide with these Jesse Tree readings: https://www.scribd.com/document/42707446/The-Tree-of-Jesse. Many will coincide with the writings in “Welcoming the Christ Child…”, but you will want to cross-check the lists and may need to come up with a few ornaments of your own if you are reading the book as a family.

#3: This mom offers her own simplified coloring ornaments for an Orthodox Jesse Tree: http://asimplehousewife.blogspot.com/2014/11/jesse-tree-orthodox-christian-advent.html. Again, many will coincide with the writings in “Welcoming the Christ Child…”, but you will want to cross-check the lists and may need to come up with a few of these, as well.

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Families with teens will benefit from discussing the “Advanced Discussion Ideas” at the end of each meditation in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent,” by Elissa Bjeletich. The teens may prefer to use the readings (straight from scripture and the Prologue) found here during the days of the Nativity Fast, instead of the more simplified readings in the book: https://festalcelebrations.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/festaljessetreeadditonaldays1-52pdf.pdf

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You may wish to make your own set of ornaments in response to the stories in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent,” by Elissa Bjeletich. Work together each day, or let each family member take a turn to complete this  Welcoming the Christ Child printable  after you read and discuss every story in the book. Cut out the “ornament” on the page, make the illustration(s), and then add it to a basket, clip it in sequence on a string, hang it from a gold-sprayed-many-limbed branch, or add it to a small evergreen tree: whatever display method works best for you and your family!

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Learning from the Saints: St. Peter (June 29)

As we prepare for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29, let us take time to learn more about each of these saints, and help our children to do the same. This post will focus on St. Peter.

St. Peter was born in Bethsaida, in Galilee, to a man named Jonas. His given name was Simon. He lived a simple, uneducated life. Simon earned his living by catching and selling fish, along with his brother Andrew.

 

Our Lord Jesus Christ called Andrew, Simon’s brother, to follow Him first. Andrew invited Simon to follow Jesus as well. Immediately after Christ’s call, the brothers left their fishing nets and followed Him (Matt. 4:18-20). Simon was married, but left his home to follow Christ. One of the times that Christ visited Simon’s home, he healed Simon’s mother in law, who had been sick. (Matt. 8:14)

 

Simon followed Jesus zealously after that, and would not leave His side. He proved his trust in Christ by walking to the Lord on the water when Christ was walking towards the disciples on a boat during a storm. (Matt. 14: 22-32) It was Simon who was the first disciple to recognize that Christ was the Son of God. (Matt. 16:13-20). When Jesus heard that, He said, “Thou art Simon the son of Jonas; thou shalt be called Cephas.” (John 1:42) “Cephas,” translated, is “Peter,” and so that is what we now call him.

 

Peter was one of only three disciples who were invited to go to Mt. Tabor with Christ when He was transfigured before them (Matt. 17:1-9). It seems that Peter wanted to know all that he could about Christ’s teachings. He asked a lot of questions, like: “Explain this parable to us!” (Matt. 15:15); “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (Matt. 18:21); “Lord, do You speak this parable only to us, or to all people?” (Luke 12:41) and “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?” (Matt. 19:27)

 

Peter later promised to follow Christ “no matter what” at the Last Supper, and Christ told him that he would deny Him three times before the very next morning’s rooster crows. Simon went with Christ and two other disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane, but could not stay awake to pray as Christ urged the three to do. When the soldiers and others came to the garden to arrest Christ, Peter cut off the high priest’s servant’s ear in defense of Christ. Later that night, he faltered and swore he didn’t know Christ, not just once, but three times, during the night of Our Lord’s trials and beatings; and then the rooster crowed. We can only imagine how Peter felt at that moment!

We do not know where Peter was when Christ died. But he was right with the other disciples when the word came that something had happened to Christ’s body! Peter ran to the tomb with John when Mary Magdalene brought the news that Jesus’ tomb was empty. John arrived first, but it was Peter who had the courage to go into the tomb first and see the folded, empty grave clothes. (John 20:1-10)

 

Peter was in the upper room with the rest both times when Christ appeared to all of the disciples. One evening a few days later, Peter decided to go out fishing, and many of the others went with him. They caught nothing. When a stranger on the shore told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, they caught many fish (even though the time for catching fish that day was long past). When this happened, Peter realized that it was Christ who was on the shore, and he dove into the water in order to swim to Him! Peter got to eat a fish breakfast with Jesus and his friends that day. He had a second (and third) chance to reaffirm his love for Christ when our Lord asked him three times, “Peter, do you love me?” and finally continued, “Feed my sheep!” (John 21:1-19)

 

Peter was right there watching as Christ ascended into heaven. After the ascension, the disciples stayed in the upper room, praying and waiting for the helper that Christ had promised. Peter was faithfully praying with the others, ten days later, when the Holy Spirit descended on them. At this point, Peter became a mighty preacher! The first sermon that he gave was on the day of Pentecost, and 3,000 people converted after that sermon! (Acts 2:14-41)

 

Peter healed a lame beggar in the name of Christ (Acts 3). God also used Peter to heal a bedridden, paralyzed man and bring to back life a much-loved community member named Dorcas (Acts 9:32-42). He helped to establish the Church in Antioch.

 

It was Peter that first converted and baptized Gentiles, with clear guidance through visions from God (Acts 10). Soon after this, Herod the King started persecuting the Church. One of the first things he did was to throw Peter in jail. God used an angel to free Peter, who went to the house where other Christians were praying for him. The servant girl was so excited to see him when she answered Peter’s knock at the door that she ran back into the room to tell everyone that he was at the door, but she forgot to open the door and let him come inside! Later she left him in and he was able to tell them about the miracle of his release before escaping to another city (Acts 12:1-17).

 

Peter went on to continue to preach the Gospel to Jews and Gentile converts all over Asia Minor. He helped to establish churches along the way. When these churches were being persecuted, he sent them a letter: today we call it 1 Peter, and it encourages its readers to remember to rejoice in sharing in Christ’s sufferings. 2 Peter was written to remind its readers to always seek true knowledge, and to beware of false knowledge. Both of these books were written while Peter was in Rome. (It is also believed that he was the main source of information for St. Mark’s Gospel.)

 

Peter died in Rome, at the orders of Emperor Nero. When Peter saw the cross on which he was to be crucified, he asked to be crucified upside down. He did not feel worthy to die in the same way that his Lord had died.

 

First-enthroned of the apostles,
teachers of the universe:
Entreat the Master of all
to grant peace to the world,
and to our souls great mercy!

Today Christ the Rock glorifies with highest honor
The rock of Faith and leader of the Apostles,
Together with Paul and the company of the twelve,
Whose memory we celebrate with eagerness of faith,
Giving glory to the one who gave glory to them!

 

St. Peter, Apostle of Christ, intercede for our salvation!

 

Here are some other ways that your family can learn about St. Peter:

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Tune into this 3 minute teaching sermon about what we can learn from St. Peter when Christ called him: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6J1lSSqeeBw

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Take some time to look up the scripture passages mentioned in St. Peter’s story above, and read them together. What can you learn from St. Peter’s life? What did he do that we should also do? Is there anything he did that we should not do? Why?

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Read this meditation about St. Peter’s life and some of the things we can learn from him, here. The blog is not Orthodox, but there are many wonderful things written in it that we will benefit from pondering. http://saints365.blogspot.com/2017/02/life-lessons-from-saint-peter.html

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Find some crafts and activity ideas to help make the Apostles’ Fast more accessible for your children here: http://myocn.net/apostles-fast-activities-for-children/

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Read many of St. Peter’s stories which have been recorded in the Bible, written in a child-friendly reading style, here: http://gardenofpraise.com/searchresults.htm?cx=partner-pub-5067400163219005%3Akem3xgyxhsg&cof=FORID%3A9&ie=ISO-8859-1&q=peter&sa=Search

(You will also find a few free printable activities related to his life, there.)

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Read about the life of St. Peter in this blog, which also offers scripture passages related to his story and artwork from many different periods, illustrating his life: http://www.jesus-story.net/peter.htm

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Bedtime and Other Rituals: Conclusion and Facing Fears at Bedtime

We have examined so many different aspects of an Orthodox Christian family’s bedtime routine. We discussed winding down together; reasons to read books (as well as suggestions of what books to read); scriptures to share together; learning about the saints together; singing together; and praying together before bed. If you have missed any in the series, you can find it in its entirety on our blog at https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/category/bedtime/.

We have come to the end of the series, but before we conclude, we wish to once more thank those of you who participated in our survey over the summer! Your myriad of ideas and suggestions were indispensable to us in this project. We are sure that your responses have been helpful to the rest of the community as well. Thank you for taking the time to share them!

To conclude our series, we will begin by offering the following meditation called “the Liturgy of Bedtime.” It reaffirms some of the things that we have discussed in prior posts. We also know from experience that nighttime can be a fearful time for children, so occasionally “the liturgy of bedtime” is still followed by children feeling afraid. Thus, we will also offer links to ideas of ways to help children face their nighttime fears. Speaking to our children about God and leading them to Him on their way to bed during the “bedtime liturgy” is the best way to begin to address nighttime fears.  

May God grant you wisdom to know exactly what your children need at bedtime to help them relax and rest in the safety of God’s protection and the Theotokos’ watchful prayers. May He bless you as you then create and carry out that bedtime routine. May He grant peace to your children and great joy to you in the process. And may He have mercy on us all and save us. Amen.

“The Liturgy of Bedtime,” an excerpt from “Talking to Children About God”

By Dr. Albert Rossi, Ph.D.

Published originally in Orthodox Family Life,  Vol 2 Iss 3,

reprinted with permission (entire article can be found here: http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/inchurch/talkgod.htm)


One of the more regular times of “Letting the children come” to God is bedtime. Often stories and prayers at bedtime can be relaxed, non-competitive time with children. When everything is right, bedtime can be a time when the unconditional love of parent for child is almost tangible. Children are usually tired and sometimes less frenetic. It also goes without saying that some nights seem more like thinly veiled chaos. But, hopefully, most nights are more peaceful.


Going to sleep for children happens gracefully only within an elaborate ritual. This is the liturgy of going to sleep and is not totally unlike other liturgies. Father Alexander Schmemann spoke of the Eucharist beginning with the long ritual of getting dressed for Church and continuing through the trip to Church and all the beautiful liturgy preceding Communion. In a similar way, children go to sleep after intricate ceremony. This usually includes taking a bath, putting on pajamas, brushing their teeth, kissing everyone in the household goodnight, hearing a story, saying prayers, getting tucked in, and for little ones, a Linus blanket and Teddy for special security. This is the liturgy of bedtime. It’s a tender time, a loving time. It’s a rare and precious time. It’s a time to be close to each other and to God.


There are many ways to talk to children about God at bedtime. As was said, we do this primarily by the way we put them to bed. We do this by mustering patience as our own busy day comes to an end. We do it with a tender kiss and an “I love you” as we leave the room. But, we can also do it with stories.


Children love stories, stories, stories. In our family there is one type of story which is the regular, nightly request. It takes the form of “Daddy (or Mommy), tell me a story about when you were a little boy.” This has been going on so long that I am running dry of stories, or so it seems. Rather than forego a story, Beth will beg for a re-run of some oft-told story. I have overheard her telling these stories to her little friends as they played in her room. As I get older I am beginning to appreciate this form of story more. It tells of heritage, of lineage, of roots. Inevitably, these stories involve grandparents, moments of virtue, of relatives, humor, tales of Church events. All this is a remembrance of God’s activity in one’s personal history, and can occasionally be explained as such. Grandparents can have a incalculable value in strengthening the faith of a child with stories about “When Baba [grandmother] was a little girl.”

Here are some ideas of ways to help children face fears at bedtime. (Note: Not all are Orthodox, but there is enough that is helpful in each that we are sharing them anyway.)

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This blog post is written in the context of Halloween, but the Orthodox Christian suggestions of what to do when your child is scared suggest very practical steps that every Orthodox parent should “have in their back pocket” and be able to offer to their child anytime he/she is afraid. http://www.theorthodoxmama.com/what-to-do-when-your-child-is-scared/

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Here is a concrete way to show our children how prayer helps us to face fear. This piece is not Orthodox, but is a very helpful visual for our kids. (We should also be sure to remind our children that we have the added peace-giving knowledge of the prayers of the saints as an additional, much stronger protection for our little “flame” than just our own prayers can offer!) http://www.playeatgrow.com/2013/02/grow-helping-your-child-deal-with-fear.html/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed:+PlayEatGrow+(Play+Eat+Grow)  

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Here are two blog posts related to bedtime prayer by Fr. Stephen Freeman. We are including them here because of his son’s personal bedtime prayer (in the first blog) which he wrote when he was 4 years old. His sweet prayer includes a sound answer to what to do with bedtime fears: ask the saints to extinguish them! https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2009/10/14/what-do-you-say-when-you-turn-out-the-light/  And this post is an interesting look at a non-Orthodox children’s bedtime prayer: http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2007/11/05/now-i-lay-me-down-to-sleep/
The comments after each blog are both interesting and helpful, should you have time, read them as well! (Comments include some practical suggestions such as sprinkling the bed with holy water before going to sleep.)
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This blog post recommends praying the Jesus Prayer if you (or your child) are having trouble sleeping: http://simplyorthodox.tumblr.com/post/32070899950

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When our family was in the process of converting into the Orthodox Faith, my young children found that having the “new-to-us” opportunity to make the sign of the cross to be helpful to them when they had bad dreams or felt afraid at nighttime. This book can help children learn how and why to make the sign of the cross: http://www.theorthodoxchildrenspress.com/our-books/on-our-shelf-every-time-i-do-my-cross/

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Find ideas for helping your child with bedtime fears/sleeplessness in the “When a Child Sleeps Poorly” section of this Orthodox Christian psychotherapist’s booklet: http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/orthodox_psychotherapy_d_avdeev_e.htm

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This non-Orthodox post offers practical Christian solutions for parents to extend comfort to their children after bad dreams: http://www.faithgateway.com/praying-through-bedtime-fears/#.WBDN31QrLIU

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In previous blog posts, we talked about sharing the scriptures at bedtime. Here are some suggestions of specific scripture verses that we can share with our children for them to think about instead of focusing on their fears at bedtime:

http://www.graceparenting.com/BibleVersesAboutPeacefulSleep.html

http://learnscripture.net/verse-set/5-sleep-not-sheep-bedtime-verses/

On the Feast of the Nativity (Dec. 25/Jan. 7)

On December 25/January 7 every year, we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. This day is an important one for humankind. For on this day the eternal God, who had deigned to take on human flesh in order to save us from the power of Death, is born into time and space. On this day we celebrate His birth to the Theotokos in a cave. We recognize Joseph’s obedience to God’s messengers in the midst of doubt. We remember the shepherds who were the first to know the Good News of His birth when the Angels of God announced it to them. Thus, “the least of these” were granted great mercy. We remember the Magi whose love for and intense study of creation revealed the Good News to them in a manner so convincing that they acted on it and traveled to a foreign land to pay homage to a King they’d never even heard of before. In them, “the wealthy” and “the foreigners” were granted great mercy as well. We recall how nature (for example, the star and the animals in the cave) proclaimed and honored His birth. We observe that Life can come from the depths of the earth, for in a cave our Lord was born, and again later, in a cave, humanity is born into life eternal when He conquers Death and rises from the dead.

It is likely that our children are already familiar with the story of this feast. Let us teach them where to find it in the Scriptures, in Luke chapter 2. As we read this passage aloud together, we find opportunities to discuss the things mentioned above. We can also take a look at the icon of the feast as we read. We can challenge our children to identify different parts of the scripture passage as they are found in the icon. We can talk with our children about the feast and its importance. Once we have established the importance of the day, we should take some time to discuss what we will do on the day of the feast, and together agree on how we can have our actions focus on celebrating the feast itself, not just bending to societal trends and expectations. This can be difficult, especially if we have established so many other Christmas lower-case-t-traditions in our family. Even a little step towards celebrating the feast is a step in the right direction, and will be worth the effort!

The feast will be upon us soon. Let us prepare and celebrate as we should. Blessed Nativity to you and your family!

Here are some ideas of ways to learn together about the Nativity Feast:

 

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Find descriptions of the icon of the Nativity at these links:
Click on parts of the icon  to read about them here: http://www.antiochian.org/icons-explained-nativity

See the icon and descriptions about each part of it here: http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/70/62/e2/7062e21a4c0a4cc5358ffe18586bf7fb.jpg

You may wish to create some Nativity icon ornaments to use at home or give as gifts. Here is one idea of a way to do so: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2011/11/christmas-orthodox-craft-ornaments.html

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Does your family have a Christmas tree? Have you talked together about how some of its symbolisms can point us to the true meaning of the Nativity Feast? In the feast’s pages in the book “Heaven Meets Earth,” there is a section dedicated to the many symbols of the Christmas tree. For example, “God’s light, symbolized by the lights sparkling all around the tree, reaches into the deepest, darkest crevices of our being.” (p. 20) If your family enjoys simple crafts, consider making paper Christmas trees. To make one, first accordian-fold a large green paper circle to make a “tree” shape. Then decorate it with markers, tiny paper icon “ornaments,” etc. Add two star stickers (back to back) at the top of the “tree.” Use a hole punch to punch holes from the fold side of each of the accordian folds of the tree. Set the tree over an led votive (many dollar stores sell them two to a pack) so that the tree can “light up.” When your tree(s) are finished, review again the symbolisms mentioned in the book, looking for each on your paper tree and your Christmas tree (if you have one).

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Keeping our focus (and our children’s focus) on Christ during the Nativity “season” is not always easy in today’s world. Find resources to help in this blog post: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/12/16/ideas-for-keeping-our-focus-on-the-nativity-of-christ/

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“Each Christmas we need to ask ourselves and our families what we should get Christ. It is His birthday after all.” ~ Melissa Tsongranis, in her article “What Shall We Offer?”, which pushes us to continue to think about how to keep Christ as the focus of our Nativity celebration. http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/family/articles/offering

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Find pins to many Nativity ideas here: https://www.pinterest.com/aodce/nativity/

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This zine can help us teach our children ages 12 and up about the Nativity of our Lord. http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/zines/nativityzine. There is a free parent guide featuring suggested ways to use it with children of different age levels; ideas for celebrating the twelve days of Christmas; and information about Christmas celebrations around the world, as well! http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/christmas_guide (You can also get a teachers’ guide to use with the zine, with these objectives: http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/resources/midhightextobjectives#For to Us)

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With older children, we can take time before the Nativity Feast’s vesperal service/Royal Hours to discuss the verses we will hear and/or chant. For example this one:

“O Christ what shall we offer You;
for our sake You appeared on earth as man?
Every creature made by You offers thanks to You.
The angels offer You a hymn; the heavens, a star;
the Magi, gifts; the shepherds, their wonder;
the earth, its cave; the wilderness, the manger:
and we offer You a Virgin Mother.
O pre-eternal God, have mercy on us.”


Find the rest of the vesperal service here: http://lit.royaldoors.net/. Watch your children during the service, to see their faces light up in  recognition when this verse that you have discussed is chanted in the service!

Bedtime and Other Rituals: Reading from the Scriptures Part 3: New Testament Stories

As we have discussed in previous blogs, bedtime is an excellent time to share Bible stories with our children. The stories, challenges, and encouragement found in the New Testament offer many examples from the Lord Himself and from His Disciples of how to live a life devoted to God. These stories are therefore an excellent source of bedtime stories and can easily be incorporated into the family bedtime routine.

As with the Old Testament stories we suggested before, New Testament stories can be either read or told to younger children. Older children may prefer to help with the reading. This reading can come straight out of the Scriptures, if desired, or from a story book. Whatever the means, it is vital that we help our children to learn the stories in the Holy Scriptures. Sharing Bible stories (as well as non-story Scriptures) at bedtime is one way that we can make that happen!

Here are a few suggestions of New Testament stories that may be helpful to children at bedtime:

Stories full of the joy that comes from God:

Elizabeth is Expecting a Baby (Luke 1:5-25)

Mary Says “Yes” to God (Luke 1:26-38)

Elizabeth and Mary Happily Thank God Together (Luke 1:39-56)

His Name Is John (Luke 1:57-80)

Jesus is Born (Luke 2:1-21)

Simeon and Anna Meet Jesus (Luke 2:22-38)

Jesus Welcomes the Children (Matt. 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-18)

Jesus Brings His Friend Lazarus Back to Life (John 11:1-44)

People Welcome Jesus to Jerusalem (Matt. 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19)

Jesus is Alive! (Matt. 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-10)

Jesus Surprises His Disciples (Matt. 28:9-10; Mark 16:9-13; Luke 24:13-43; John 20:11-21:25)

Stories that show that God is strong:

Jesus and the Man Who Could Not Walk (Matt 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26)

Jesus Heals Jairus’ Daughter (Matt. 9:18-19, 23-26; Mark 5:21-24, 35-43; Luke 8:40-42, 49-56)

Jesus Helps a Centurion (Matt 8:18-26; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56)

Jesus Raises the Widow’s Only Son to Life (Luke 7:11-17)

Jesus Stops a Storm (Matt. 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25)

Jesus Walks on the Water (Matt 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-52; John 6:15-21)

Some Disciples See that Jesus is God (Matt 17:1-9; Mk 8:31-9:1; Luke 9:22-27)

Ten Sick Men are Healed by Jesus (Luke 17:11-18)

Jesus Heals a Beggar Who is Blind (Mark 10:46-52)

Saul Meets Jesus (Acts 9:1-18)

Dorcas is Raised to Life (Acts 9:36-42)

Stories that demonstrate how God protects His people:

Joseph Obeys God and Saves Baby Jesus (Matt. 2:13-22)

Jesus Tells Stories About How God Wants to Save Everyone:

     One Missing Sheep (Matt. 18:12-14; Luke 15:3-7)

     The Woman and the Coin (Luke 15:8-10)

     The Son Who Did What He Wanted (Luke 15:11-32)

     What Happened to the Farmer’s Seeds (Matt 13:1-9, 18-23; Mark 4:1-9, 13-20; Luke 8:4-8, 11-15)

     A Good Shepherd (John 10:1-6)

Saul’s Basket Escape (Acts 9:19-25)

Peter Walks out of Jail (Acts 12:1-19)

Paul and Silas Hang Out with Their Jailor (Acts 16:20-40)

Stories that show how God provides:

Jesus Helps a Bride and Groom (John 2:1-11)

So Many Fish! (Matt. 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11)

Jesus Tells About a Kind Stranger (Luke 10:25-37)

Five Loaves and Two Fish (Matt 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14)

The Holy Spirit Comes to Help the Church (Acts 2:1-41)

Scriptures (not stories) that teach us how to better follow God:

Jesus Preaches on a Mountain:

     Love Everyone, Even Your Enemies (Matt 5:38-48)

     How to Pray (Matt 6:5-15; Luke 11:1-4)

     How to Live (Matt 6:16-34)

     More on How to Live (Matt 7:1-23)

     Two Ways to Build (Matt 7:24-28)

Encouraging Letters from the Apostles:

     The Best Gift (1 Corinth 12:1-31)

     Do Good to Everyone (Gal. 6:1-10)

     Live in God’s Love (1 John 4:7-21)

These are only a few of the New Testament stories and Scripture passages that can be shared with our children. They are not all-inclusive, but they are a place to start! The most important thing is that we find ways to help our children connect with the Holy Scriptures.


Here are additional resources that can help us learn from the Scriptures together at bedtime:
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If you missed these links from our Old Testament Bible Stories post, these Orthodox resources can assist us as we teach our children stories from the New Testament:

The Orthodox Study Bible. This translation of the Scriptures offers footnotes filled with insights from Orthodox scholars. If you do not yet have a copy in your home, you can find it here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/orthodox-study-bible/

The Children’s Bible Reader. This Bible storybook was published by the Greek Orthodox Church in Greece. It has been translated to English, and offers many stories from the Bible that are illustrated in a style similar to iconography. Find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Orthodox-Childrens-Illustrated-American-Society/dp/1585168270

The Children’s Bible Reader is also available online here: http://cbr.goarch.org/

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These Bible storybooks are not Orthodox-published but can help an Orthodox Christian family to learn stories from the Bible (both Old and New Testaments):

The Jesus Calling Bible Storybook tells stories from the Bible in simple language that children can understand. The illustrations are gentle and colorful. Each story includes a related Bible verse for the reader to ponder. It also offers a short meditation that can help the reader to think of how Christ can help them just as God helped the person in the story. (Note: because this book is not Orthodox-written, a few of these meditations may need to be omitted, reworded, or discussed after reading to clarify our Orthodox belief on the matter. If you use this book, we advise that you read ahead so that you can be prepared. But as a whole the book is lovely, which is why we are mentioning it.) http://www.thomasnelson.com/jesus-calling-bible-storybook

Before I Dream Bible Storybook tells 60 Bible stories in simple language. Each story is a verbal feast for the senses, drawing in the listener to fully engage in the story. The author did this on purpose, to fully engage children’s thoughts in the Scriptures before bedtime. Although this book is no longer available from its publisher (Tyndale), https://www.amazon.com/Before-Bedtime-Storybook-Henley-Playsongs/dp/1414300921  offers links to new and used versions of the book.

God’s Word For Me Bible Storybook offers 104 stories from the Scriptures in child-friendly language accompanied by pleasant illustrations. Each story ends with an opportunity for application: a verse to ponder or a suggested activity related to the story. http://www.thomasnelson.com/god-s-word-for-me#

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Here are links to suggested Scriptures for bedtime meditation:

Here are some verses (from both Old and New Testaments) that can be helpful to think about at bedtime: http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/20-great-bible-verses-to-read-before-bed/

And these inspirational verses can be helpful to both children and adults at bedtime: http://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/inspirational-bible-verses/

Bedtime and Other Rituals: Reading from the Scriptures Part 2: Old Testament Stories

As we prepare our children for bed, what a blessing it can be to share with them stories from the Holy Scriptures. Including reading from the Scriptures in our family’s bedtime routine offers each member of the family the gift of learning more about God and His work among us while also opening our minds to Truth. Scripture reading at any time of the day, but especially in the evening when we have time to reflect and think about what we’ve just heard or read as we fall asleep, offers great things for Christians of any age to ponder. So, if we read Scripture passages together at bedtime, our children can lie in bed and truly think about “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

There are so many stories, teachings, and truths in the Scriptures that it may be difficult to know where to begin. Families with very young children will benefit from investing in some Bible storybooks that offer illustrated stories from the scriptures, written in a way that is appropriate for children to understand, and read those together. Families with older children can read the stories straight from the Bible. This offers multiple opportunities: beyond the stories themselves, reading straight from the scriptures helps the children to see where these stories come from, and can also be used as an occasion to help the children to learn how to look things up in the Bible for themselves. Some families commit to reading the whole Bible together by reading a small section at a time. This takes a long time, but it gives them the chance to experience the Scriptures together and discuss each section after the reading.

In the event that you need an idea of a place to start, here are suggestions of Old Testament stories, listed in categories that may be helpful to children at bedtime:

Stories full of the joy that comes from God:
God Calls His Creation Good (Gen. 1:1- 2:3)
Adam and Eve Live in Paradise With God (Gen. 2:7- 2:24)
God Makes a Promise to Noah (Gen. 8:1- 9:17)
God’s Promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:1- 12:8; 15:1- 6; 17:1- 9; 17:15- 22; 18:1- 15; 21:1- 6)
Hannah’s Prayers are Answered (1 King. 1:1- 2:10)
A Servant Girl Saves Her Master (4 King. 5:1- 15)
A Young King Brings His People Back to God (2 Chron. 34:1- 35:21)

Stories that show that God is strong:
God Saves His People from Slavery (Ex. 6:28- 12:42; 13:17- 14:31)
The Walls of Jericho Fall (Josh. 1:6- 3:17; 6:1- 19)
David vs. Goliath (I King. 17:1- 29)
Elijah and the Prophets of Baal (3 King. 18:1- 30)

Stories that demonstrate how God protects His people:
Young Prince Joash is Saved and Becomes King of Israel (4 King. 11:1- 14; 17; 19- 12: 9) Esther Saves Her People (Esther 2:5- 8:12)
Ruth Finds a New Family (Ruth 1:1- 4:17)
The Three Hebrew Youths are Saved from the Fiery Furnace (Daniel 3:1-97)
Daniel Obeys God and an Angel Protects Him from Lions (Daniel 6: 1-29)

Stories that show how God provides:
Joseph Rescues His Family (Gen. 37:1-36; 39:1- 45:8)
Baby Moses is Safe (Ex. 1:7- 2:10)
The Hungry Hebrew People Have Food and Water in the Desert (Ex. 15:22- 17:7)
Elijah and the Ravens (3 King. 17:1- 6)
Elijah and the Widow at Zarephath (3 King. 17:8- 24)
God Works Miracles Through Elisha (4 King. 4:1- 7; 8-37; 38-44)

There are so many scriptures that can be shared with our children at bedtime. These are only a few of them. We recommend that you select the stories you want your children to know, and start there!

Here are a few resources that may be helpful as you read from the Scriptures together at bedtime:
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The Orthodox Study Bible. This translation of the Scriptures offers footnotes filled with insights from Orthodox scholars. If you do not have a copy in your home yet, find it here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/orthodox-study-bible/

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The Children’s Bible Reader. This Bible storybook was published by the Greek Orthodox Church in Greece. It has been translated to English, and offers many stories from the Bible that are illustrated in a style similar to iconography. Find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Orthodox-Childrens-Illustrated-American-Society/dp/1585168270

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Bible Stories for the Very Young. This Bible storybook offers vibrantly colored pictures that perfectly illustrate the simply-told stories. Find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Bible-Stories-Young-Sally-Grindley/dp/0747535523/

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Words to Dream On. This beautifully-illustrated Bible storybook offers many simply-told Bible stories. Each story has a short related thought and one-line prayer that reflects on the story. (Author’s note: This is the bedtime Bible story book for kids that I like best of all the ones I found while working on this project. It is lovely.) Find it here: http://www.thomasnelson.com/words-to-dream-on

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365 Read-Aloud Bedtime Bible Stories offers one Bible story each day for an entire year. The stories are very short, written simply, and printed in large type that is easy for young readers to read for themselves. Find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Bedtime-Bible-Story-Book-Read-aloud/dp/1557482640

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For upper-elementary-aged children:
Find 84 Bible stories from the Old Testament that can be read online or printed here: http://kids.christiansunite.com/biblestories_old_testament.shtml

Find 125 readings* (for upper elementary aged students) from the Old Testament in the online Bible “storybook” found here: http://biblehub.com/childrens/ *note: the wording in some of these stories can be a bit difficult to navigate, so you may want to read or retell them using language your children can best understand

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In addition to reading Bible stories/the Scriptures together, you may want to help your children work on memorizing verses or simply bless your children with Scripture verses as they fall asleep. Here are a few suggestions of ways to do so:
This family offers Psalms as prayers to ponder as their children go to sleep: http://www.intoxicatedonlife.com/2013/07/18/psalms-to-use-for-bedtime-prayers/

And here are some comforting Old Testament verses that you can offer to your children for them to think about as they fall asleep: http://christianity.about.com/od/prayersverses/a/Comforting-Bible-Verses.htm

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Bedtime and Other Rituals: Reading From the Scriptures Part 1: Introduction and a Few Resources

In prior posts, we have discussed the importance of establishing a bedtime routine. Gathering together as a family, calming down together, and reading together are all things we can do as part of a nightly routine that benefits our children. For the next few posts, we will take a look at reading stories from Scripture. This post will share the survey results along with a few possible resources. In forthcoming posts we will suggest stories to share with your children from both the Old and New Testaments.

Once again, we thank the participants who filled out our summer survey. Of those who took time to complete our survey, 70% answered the “how do you select which Scriptures to read?” question, implying that they include reading scriptures in their routine.

Here is how they answered:


22 %  – We follow the daily Bible readings prescribed by the Church.
45% – We read from a Bible storybook.
10% – We are reading our way through the whole Bible, one section at a time.

The rest offered these answers:

  • “Our kids go to a Christian School and we may start with what they’ve read that day to discuss our perspective as Orthodox Christians on the topic.”
  • “We may read the children’s Bible if she shows interest.”
  • “Either a Bible storybook or from the daily readings. Sometimes both.”
  •  “Kids may request certain stories, or I choose, or we try and find something close to the church calendar.”
  •  “Our kids choose daily stories, we read them stories that go with the Feast Day.”
  •  “We follow the readings, though not perfectly, and we read additionally from various story books or according to relevant feasts or lessons.”
  •  “Sometimes we follow daily readings, sometimes we are inspired by the upcoming feast, sometimes we just work our way through Bible storybook.”
  •  “The daily Bible verses and a Psalm or a chapter from Proverbs.”
  • “Home school lessons.”

And these respondents’ families include Scripture reading in their routine, just not at bedtime:

  • “We don’t read scripture at bedtime. We do that after lunch.”
  • “We read through a Bible storybook in the mornings.”
  • “We read from a Bible story book on Sunday afternoons.”

As you can see, there are many ways to select which Scriptures/Bible stories to share with your children. Here are a few related resources that may be helpful to your family. Note: not all of them are Orthodox, but they are helpful enough that we decided to  included them. What Scriptures and/or Bible storybooks does your family read together? Please share them in the comments below!

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“Bible stories can be paraphrased in simple language and told enthusiastically to your youngsters. If possible, try to follow the church calendar of daily readings for your selection of a Bible story on a given night. With younger children, the focus can simply be on the Sunday Gospel and Epistle reading. As a means of introduction, as well as reinforcement, the reading can be discussed daily on the week prior to that Sunday reading.” https://oca.org/the-hub/the-church-on-current-issues/nourishing-children-in-christ1

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This Orthodox Bible storybook, The Children’s Bible Reader, is written at a 3rd grade level, but children of other ages can definitely enjoy reading it or hearing it read to them. http://www.svspress.com/childrens-bible-reader-illustrated-old-new-testaments/

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The Children’s Bible Reader an Orthodox Children’s Bible storybook, is also online! Read (or listen to) the stories here: http://cbr.goarch.org/

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In case you are not aware of it, we offer a weekly podcast featuring Sunday’s Gospel, told in simpler words for younger children, and read for older children. Listen to the podcast, called “Let Us Attend,” here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/letusattend. There are also printable handouts at five different levels available to share with your children: http://www.antiochian.org/christianeducation/letusattend

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The Read and Share Bedtime Bible and Devotional offers 200 simply-written stories from the Bible, as well as 50 devotional readings that can help families focus on God before going to sleep. Geared to young children, it can also be enjoyed by slightly older ones. https://www.amazon.com/Read-Share-Bedtime-Bible-Devotional/dp/1400320836/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1476889361&sr=1-1&keywords=9781400320837

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Words to Dream On: This Bible storybook has selected Bible stories that focus on “God’s love, care, protection, trustworthiness, and power.” It offers 50 different Bible stories, each with a short Bible verse for the family to ponder, as well as a prayer related to the story. http://www.thomasnelson.com/words-to-dream-on#

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365 Bible Stories for Young Hearts offers one story for each day of the year. This book is an easy way for families to read their way through the Bible (well, through many of its stories) in one year. https://www.amazon.com/365-Bible-Stories-Young-Hearts/dp/158134807X

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