Tag Archives: Book Review

Gleanings From a Book: “Everything Tells Us About God” by Katherine Bolger Hyde

Author’s note: This book is so eye-catching! As soon as I saw it, I was excited to read it! The illustrations are delightfully appealing. The book’s backstory adds to its intrigue. I couldn’t wait to crack it open! However, I had other writing that needed to happen, so when the book arrived, I reluctantly set it on the shelf to wait until now. It was hard to not peek, but I prefer to write about a book right after reading it, so I forced myself to wait. It was well worth the wait. This is a delightful book.

From the first glance, this beautiful book invites engagement. The cover sets the tone for the book: it creates an expectation for beauty, variety, and a joyful revelling in God’s generosity with His people. When the reader opens the book, the end paper catches their eye. It is a golden, nearly-completed puzzle. But why is that one piece missing? And what does this have to do with the title? Without reading a word, the reader is already curious and determined to know more!

The book begins by telling the reader that the world is like a giant puzzle. God made this puzzle to tell us about Himself. He designed each piece – each part of the world – to help us learn some of His secrets. When we really look at the pieces, we can learn about Him through them!

Page after engaging page, the book points out different things in our world and how God uses them to teach us about Himself. For example, the sun tells us we can’t live without God because His love warms our hearts and helps us to grow closer to Him. The food that we eat reminds us that God always makes sure we have what we need, and that He always takes care of us. The animals tell us about God, too: elephants help us see how mighty God is; hens and chicks remind us of how He cares for us; doves remind us of how the Holy Spirit brings us peace; etc.

Livia Coloji’s charming illustrations simultaneously cheer the reader and invite interaction. Bright colors, playful perspectives, and soft edges all help the reader to feel the warm message of the text. Readers can savor the images as well as the words. The first time through the book, the reader looks forward to turning the page to unveil the next illustration and the next piece of the puzzle. Every reading after that, the reader will anticipate the illustrations, revisiting old friends.

The book concludes with an answer to the reader’s initial question. The missing piece in the puzzle of God’s world is each of us! He gives us life so that we can be part of His puzzle. He wants to show the world part of Himself through us! When we love and serve God, we are able to be a puzzle piece to those around us!

The author’s note at the end of the book offers the reader a glimpse at its backstory. The concept of this book was initially presented to Ancient Faith Publishing by Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory. He had written of a conversation with an elderly bishop on an airport run one day. As they drove, the bishop kept pointing things out in the world around them, and talking about how each thing pointed us to God. Katherine Hyde sent Fr. Thomas her rendition of his idea, but it got lost in the shuffle over the years. Fr. Thomas’ family has given their permission for her to publish it, so now we can read this book and marvel at God’s willingness to reveal Himself to us, one piece at a time!

The end paper at the back of the book shows the completed golden puzzle. The reader now knows why the piece was missing and can see how beautiful the puzzle is with all of its pieces in place. Glory to God for including each of us in the puzzle of His world!

Purchase your own copy of this book: http://store.ancientfaith.com/everything-tells-us-about-god/

Here are some gleanings from the book, as well as ideas of ways to incorporate it into a family time:

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“The sun tells us that nothing can live without God… His warmth fills our hearts, and His love shines on us every day.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“The water we drink tells us Christ is our life…” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“Rocks tell us Christ is as strong as a boulder… Nothing and no one can ever defeat Him or make him stop loving us.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“Small things, like flowers… tell us God cares about every detail of His creation.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“Animals… tell us what God is like… The mother hen tells us He cares for us.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“Schools… tell us Christ is our Teacher… And He Himself is the perfect student of God the Father: He always does His Father’s will.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“The people we meet… tell us Jesus became human, just like us.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“Some years ago, Fr. Tom Hopko submitted to Ancient Faith Publishing a story… In this story… a young Fr. Tom drove an elderly bishop to the airport, hoping to engage in some deep theological conversation along the way. Instead, the bishop humbly and simply pointed out how everything they passed had something to tell us about the nature of God.” (a bit of the back story of the book, from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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If you have children who enjoy coloring, one of the first pages of the book has been made into a coloring page! Download and print it here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/content/everything-coloring-page.pdf
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Family time idea #1: Before reading “Everything Tells Us About God” together, hand each family member a blank puzzle. Provide watercolor paints, markers, and/or colored pencils and invite them to write a message or create an image that makes them happy on the puzzle. Share the book while the images dry. Then have each person turn their puzzle over, and on each piece, write the name of something or someone in their life that points them to God. Who/what are the pieces that God uses in their life to draw them closer to Himself? (Be sure to help family members for whom the writing is difficult!)

(You may want to buy different sized puzzles, depending on the ages of those in your household. You can find blank puzzles online – for example, this one: http://www.orientaltrading.com/compoz-a-puzzle-blank-puzzles-28-a2-13646291.fltr;
or in a local craft store – for example, this one: http://www.michaels.com/design-a-puzzle-set-by-creatology/10489364.html)
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Family time idea #2: Before sharing “Everything Tells Us About God” with the family, gather items (or pictures of them) that are mentioned in the book. Bring together a few rocks, some water, a cutout of the sun, some stuffed animals (an elephant, a hen, a bee, a lion, a lamb, and/or a dove), seeds, flowers, fruit, bread, stars, a picture of a playground, a picture of school, an article of dress-up clothes, a mini photo album, etc. would work. Place the items you’ve gathered on a large tray. Present them to the family, and ask why they think you’ve gathered these things? Then read the book together and ask the question again. Go through each item and ask how it tells you about God. What items did you miss that are important to your family? What if one of these “puzzle pieces” went missing from your life? What can we learn about how important each piece of God’s puzzle is to the world?
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Family time idea #3: Read “Everything Tells Us About God” together, and then engage in a discussion. How does God reveal Himself to us? What “puzzle piece” from the book did each family member like, and why? Go out for a hike together. Occasionally stop and look around. What “puzzle pieces” do you notice that God has placed around you, that point you to Himself? At the end of the hike, or when you get back home again, invite each family member to think of their own “puzzle piece” that could be added to the book, and draw or write about it on this printable pdf.

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

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

I was right.

And I was wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Several Divine Liturgy Resources for Young Children

We have previously shared the lovely board book “What Do You See at Liturgy?” by Kristina Kallas-Tartara. As we mentioned in that blog post, the book consists of a gentle rhyme paired with pictures of what a child will see when they go to the Divine Liturgy. We continue to recommend this book as a helpful tool to help little ones enter into the service when their attention needs to be redirected.

Recently, it came to our attention that Kristina has written a second beautiful board book for young children, and that she has created other useful resources as well. The second book she has written is called “What Can I Do at Liturgy?” It carefully walks a child through the liturgy, emphasizing the things that they can do. Too often, children experience the “can’ts” in church. It is easy for us adults to slip into “can’t” mode when shepherding young ones through the Liturgy. We say things like, “No, you can’t run around right now; You can’t go out for a fifth drink of water; You can’t make siren noises as you pretend to put out the fires you see;” etc. This book offers us the opportunity to find and encourage the “cans.” Every page is full of pictures and suggestions of all that children CAN do (and SHOULD do) during the Liturgy. From lighting a candle to signing themselves with the cross to communing to looking at icons to singing, praying, and sharing. This book is packed full of suggestions of things that the children can do in the liturgy! Here is an example: one spread shows a series of Orthodox children, each doing part of the sign of the cross. 26805494_10213524190090905_3951597830320811227_nThey’re ordered sequentially, and using a hand that young readers will mirror to correctly make the sign of the cross. (What a brilliant idea, to use the left hands of the children in the photos so that the readers will naturally mirror it and use their right hand!) We highly recommend this beautiful and useful book to any parent, godparent, or Sunday Church School teacher who is helping young children to more fully participate in the divine services.

The author has another fine resource which we recently discovered. She used the photos that were taken to create her two charming books to create an Orthodox “memory” game! The durable “chunky” photo cards can be utilized in a variety of ways. Parents and teachers can employ the cards for vocabulary review, to play a matching game, or to play a number of other games. Directions for 6 different games and 4 fun classroom activities are included with the card set. This little set of cards will be used again and again by families and Sunday Church School teachers. They offer a fun way to learn, and are yet another way to “bring home the faith” with children.

And last, but not least, Kristina Kallas-Tartara has a blog called “Raising Orthodox Christians”. Its byline is “Helping Children Experience the Orthodox Faith”. On this site, you will find activities, lessons, recipes, and more. Parents and teachers will find ideas for educating their children and students at this site, and may want to follow the blog so as not to miss new resources that she posts! Check out her blog site here: https://raisingorthodoxchristians.com/

We hope that you find these resources helpful. What other Liturgy resources for small children do you recommend to the community?

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If you missed the blog post introducing “What Do You See at Liturgy?”, find it here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/a-handful-of-helpful-books-for-children/
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Find Kristina Kallas-Tartara’s book “What do You See at Liturgy?” here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/196402444/what-do-you-see-at-liturgy-orthodox .

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Kristina Tartara’s book “What Can I Do at Divine Liturgy?” is available here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/466843238/what-can-i-do-at-divine-liturgy-orthodox

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In case you missed it, a few years ago we shared some thoughts on how important it is for children to be part of the Divine Liturgy in this blog post: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/02/19/the-work-of-the-people-includes-children/
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In case you missed it, this blog post offers ideas of ways to help children participate in the Divine Liturgy: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/05/18/on-helping-children-to-participate-in-the-divine-liturgy/

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To purchase the Orthodox Matching Game, visit: https://www.etsy.com/listing/476655247/my-orthodox-matching-game

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On Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing: Principle 5: Teach the Joy of Obedience

Note: This series of blog posts will focus on principles important to Orthodox Christians who are raising children. The series will feature a closer look at Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ book, “Parenting Toward the Kingdom: Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing.” Each week we will take a closer look at one section of the book, which is divided into 6 basic principles of child rearing. Find an overview blog post about the book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/02/08/gleanings-from-a-book-parenting-toward-the-kingdom-by-dr-philip-mamalakis/. We thank Dr. Mamalakis and Ancient Faith Publishing for giving us permission to share his wisdom with you in this way. Purchase your own copy of his book here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/parenting-toward-the-kingdom/.

 

Principle 5: Teach the Joy of Obedience

 

Dr. Mamalakis encourages his readers to teach their children the joy of obedience in chapters 14 and 15 of his book “Parenting Toward the Kingdom.” Chapter 14 focuses on the joy of obedience, and ch. 15 encourages parents to nurture a culture of listening. Parents need to be attuned to both to successfully teach their children the joy of obedience.

He begins the chapter about the joy of obedience by acknowledging that it is difficult to get our children to listen to us and to obey. He states that while obedience is important, it is not the end goal. Our end goal is for our children to be strong enough to follow God, and demanding obedience from them can damage the strength of their will, reducing the likelihood that they could be that strong when they are grown. We do have authority over our children, and we are responsible to help them learn to obey. But we should not take our authority and abuse it, forcing obedience from them. Instead we must utilize our authority to nurture a home environment that allows our children to learn and grow in all of the virtues, including obedience. Obedience shows both faith and love when it is lived out, whether in the home or before God. The more fully our children know that we care, respect, and love them, the easier it is for them to live within our guidelines and obey us. It is important that we model obedience to our children by genuinely living the Faith in our own home, and by prioritizing peace, repentance, and love in the process.

Dr. Mamalakis goes on in the next chapter to encourage his readers to hone their listening skills. He writes that if we expect our children to listen to us, it follows that we should model that by truly listening to them and to our spouse. It takes self-denial to truly listen to others, but when we do, they see their value to us as icons of God. When we truly listen, our children feel that they have a voice (even if it doesn’t change our direction) and affirms that we respect them. When we listen before we take any action, we successfully model the way we want our children to live: respectfully and virtuously. So, first we connect with our child; then we are in a position to correct them. It is important that we continue to teach our children about listening in the non-emotionally-intense times such as bedtime, mealtimes, etc. so that our discussions about listening are not limited to when tensions have escalated. The key to teaching listening is to model it effectively in the way that we interact with our children.

Have a parenting question for Dr. Mamalakis? Ask him here (at the bottom of the page): http://www.drmamalakis.com/contact.html

Here are a few gleanings from the chapters related to Principle #5:

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“Children need to learn obedience just like they need to learn patience, kindness, and self-control. Because they are learning, we need to be teaching, not just demanding, obedience. (p. 254; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Demanding obedience does not work in the long term because, while we do have authority over our children, we do not have the authority to crush their wills. That is disrespectful. They will need their wills to be strong as adults to make good decisions and to follow God, which is our long-term goal.” (p. 255; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Our goal is not to raise up robots who just do what they are told. Our goal is to have our children internalize a spirit… of obedience to God and His commandments by the time they leave our homes so that they will choose, with their own will, to be obedient to God.” (p. 256; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Obedience teaches our children to let go of getting what they want, when they want it. Our long-term goal is to raise children who align their wills with God’s will, rather than live enslaved to their impulses and desires. ” (pp. 258 – 259; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“God’s love should fill our homes with joy even in the midst of our struggles. The gospel is called the Good News, not the Oppressive Rules. Our job is to try to parent in joy, with joy, as our children struggle to listen.

More effective than demanding obedience is modeling obedience and having close relationships with our children.” (pp. 262 – 263; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“As children observe the parents living the sacramental life of the Church, they will internalize the life of the church as real. If they experience this life as joyful, they internalize the joy of obedience.

Keep in mind, however, that if the external practices of the Church in the home are not accompanied by love, caring, and connection, children will develop a distaste for these practices. Prioritize peace, love, and repentance as you do your best to connect the Church to the home.” (p. 265; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“The best way to teach listening is to listen to our children. We venerate our children (and our spouses) as icons of Christ by listening to them.” (p. 267; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Listening is an act of love. Real listening requires that we resist the temptation to ignore, interrupt, give advice, criticize, or react. It requires selflessness and is an ascetic act of self-giving. When we listen to someone, we make ourselves present and attentive to what the person is saying. It is a type of self-denial and a real act of love.” (p. 268; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Listening first with questions like, ‘What’s going on? What happened?Tell me what you were thinking,’ or even, ‘Why did you hit your sister?’ is respectful and invites children to reflect. Listening to children does not mean we don’t set limits and give consequences. It means we check in with them before we do anything. That is our struggle: to model respect and teach them that they are icons of Christ by listening before we set limits or give consequences.” (p. 272; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“If our child’s angry, childish reactions are met with angry, childish reactions from us, we end up escalating the conflict, and it is not clear who the adults are anymore. When we react, we lose our authority as parents.” (p. 274; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“…we use our God-given authority not to silence our children, but to set the expectation that the home is where we are all learning to listen. We should be strict about requiring listening but stricter about modeling listening and focusing on connecting with our children as they are learning.” (p. 277; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“It is more effective to get your child’s attention with a gentle touch than to repeat yourself.” (p. 278; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Beware, it is very difficult to teach listening if our children to don’t see or experience the adults in the home listening to them… We don’t need to force this issue with each parenting incident, but we do need to nurture a household in which everyone is learning to listen.” (p. 278; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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On Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing: Principle #4: Separate Feelings from Behaviors

Note: This series of blog posts will focus on principles important to Orthodox Christians who are raising children. The series will feature a closer look at Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ book, “Parenting Toward the Kingdom: Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing.” Each week we will take a closer look at one section of the book, which is divided into 6 basic principles of child rearing. Find an overview blog post about the book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/02/08/gleanings-from-a-book-parenting-toward-the-kingdom-by-dr-philip-mamalakis/. We thank Dr. Mamalakis and Ancient Faith Publishing for giving us permission to share his wisdom with you in this way. Purchase your own copy of his book here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/parenting-toward-the-kingdom/.

Principle 4: Separate Feelings from Behaviors

 

Dr. Mamalakis encourages parents to separate feelings from behaviors in principle 4 of Parenting Toward the Kingdom. This is a very important principle, as demonstrated by the fact that it takes almost one-third of the book to speak to it. He addresses this principle across seven chapters: Take the Side of Feelings, Set Limits to Behaviors, Strategies for Setting Limits, Setting Limits With Your Child, Responding to Pushback, Understanding Consequences, and Giving Consequences.

Dr. Mamalakis begins by encouraging parents to take the side of feelings. Our children’s feelings and behaviors require different responses, and as always, our children are learning by how we respond to them. It is thus important that we stand with our children and help them learn to manage their feelings, so that they are not controlled by them. When we help our children learn to manage their feelings, they learn to behave correctly even when they don’t feel like doing so. When we name our children’s feelings, we can nurture connection by also empathizing; but all the while holding steadfast to our expectation for right behavior. Sticking firmly to limits while helping our children learn to manage their emotions nurtures a respectful culture in our home.

Dr. Mamalakis continues by commending parents to set limits to behaviors. He says that children learn best when their parents have done well at setting limits. The limits that parents set will be good ones if they are clear and non-negotiable, shaped by God and His Own limits for His Church. These limits must be respectful and effective, and should work towards the family’s long-term goals. While the limits are being established and enforced, parents need to be careful to connect with their children.

Dr. Mamalakis next offers strategies for setting limits. He acknowledges that there are many ways to set limits, the best limits are clear and consistent, and steadfastly enforced. While “no” is simple and firm, it can often lead to a power struggle, so it is not necessarily the best way to begin to set a limit: instead, Dr. Mamalakis recommends “not yet.” Another option is to offer the child a pathway to getting a “yes!” (ie: “Yes, after you have done x [thing that needs to be done] you may do y [that thing you just asked if you could do].”) Giving directions and instructions is another way to set limits, but we must be careful not to misuse or overuse it. Along the way, sharing information with our children, directing them to the kind of behavior we want to see, breaking tasks into smaller ones, and incorporating fun into the directions/instructions makes easier for our children to understand and complete them. Giving directions straight up (not disguised as questions) and giving five-minute warnings for transitions are among other effective strategies. Above all, parents need to allow their children to struggle with the limits, not rescuing them or getting angry when they struggle; but lovingly supporting them in the struggle.

Dr. Mamalakis goes on to discuss setting limits with your child. Because a parent’s goal is for their children to grow up to make their own decisions and live within the limitations of the Faith, it makes sense for the children to gradually help to set their limits; to make choices and be responsible as is appropriate for their age. As parents set limits together with their children, Dr. Mamalakis suggests the following strategies: give choices, collaborate, brainstorm solutions, prepare your children beforehand, and follow up with them later.

Dr. Mamalakis gives ideas of ways that parents can respond to pushback. He tells his readers that it is normal for children to resist/argue/protest limits; and it is how they test to see if the rules really are firm. He suggests that, in response to pushback, we check in with our children; stand firmly by our rules; describe the process; walk away to give our children time to pull it together; apply the parenting strategies we know; reinforce any positive effort we notice; only explain our reasoning behind the rules once; give a “pull yourself together” time out (not as a punishment); and set limits to the pushback. If our children push beyond the limits that we have set, we will need to respond with consequences; but consequences are not the first response to pushback.

Dr. Mamalakis writes that consequences should be the last resort when our children do not behave. They should help our children learn that our limits are firm, and teach our children about how life works. While we give consequences to our children for their behaviors, we need to be mindful of how we do so, in order to continue communicating that we love them unconditionally. We need to allow our children to experience natural consequences, demonstrate limiting behavior by limiting our own, and be prepared to give logical consequences when needed.

The final piece of principle 4 is that Dr. Mamalakis talks parents through giving consequences. He writes that logical consequences range from tightening the limits to asking forgiveness to removing privileges. He warns parents against using vague or empty threats, and encourages his readers to be willing to sometimes “lose the battle to win the war,” so to speak.

May God help us all to learn to separate feelings from behaviors!
Have a parenting question for Dr. Mamalakis? Ask him here (at the bottom of the page): http://www.drmamalakis.com/contact.html

Here are a few gleanings from the chapters related to Principle #4:

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“Children typically know the right thing to do but misbehave because they can’t control their desires, impulses, or emotions. To help our children learn to manage their emotions and control their desires, we need to learn to respond to their emotions, not just their misbehaviors.” (p. 129; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Naming feelings, when done respectfully, communicates respect for our children. By taking an interest in their feelings, we communicate that we are interested in them. If we respect our children as equal to us as persons, as icons of Christ, we need to respect their emotional world. We name their feelings with statements like:

‘You seem overwhelmed.’

‘Are you mad?’

‘Are you sad the day is over?’

‘Do you miss your mother?’

‘Are you mad at me?’

Are you frustrated with your brother?’”

(p. 135; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Paying a little attention to our child’s inner world is far more effective at helping our children navigate the disappointments of life than saying something like, ‘Why are you in such a foul mood?’ or ‘What’s wrong with you?’ or making statements of fact, like ‘Life’s not fair.’ ‘Not everyone can make the team.’ Or worse yet, ‘Did you upset the coach?’ Nothing hurts more than when your parents seem to turn against you when you’re in pain… Parenting is not about always voicing the right answer but about communicating care and respect.” (p. 142; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“When children misbehave, the temptation is to look for a consequence to stop the behavior… Parents need to use consequences, but that should not be the first or only thing we do when children misbehave. Consequences may stop their misbehaviors in the short term but undermine our long-term goals. Our goal is to raise kids who know how to set limits to their own behaviors and live their lives within God’s limits for salvation. We need to learn how to give consequences in ways that work toward these long-term goals for our children.” (pp. 152-153; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Rather than giving our children love and limits, we need to think in terms of love as limits. Setting appropriate limits communicates love to our children. Kids should be left neither alone nor in charge. They do best when they experience our love as unconditional and our limits as non-negotiable.” (p. 154; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Vague commands, instructions, and limits, inconsistently enforced or based on our mood at the time, are ineffective at helping children learn. Imagine playing tennis or volleyball and not being able to see the lines on the court… Imagine how confusing it would be if the rules of a game changed during the game, or if the referee was lazy on the rules when he was in a good mood but added rules arbitrarily when he was upset. In order to learn how to lay a sport, children need clear lines and rules, consistently enforced.” (p. 157; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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

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“The best way to teach our children to listen to our words is to accompany then with action. When I say something, I need to be prepared to act. The more my kids know that my words will be followed by action, the more quickly they will learn to listen when I speak.” (p. 174; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Setting limits with our children helps them learn to set limits to themselves as they grow. Working with our children around our limits helps them understand that we are on their side, that we care about them as we set and enforce the limits. The better you get at setting limits with your kids, the less you’ll have to tell them what to do.” (p. 180; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Before you tell your child what to do, you might want to ask yourself if he already knows what to do. It’s common for parents to fall into the trap of constantly telling their children things they already know… By the time your child is old enough to think through limits with you he’s probably heard the limits many times before… There are hundreds of examples of things we say to our children that they already know. They know what they have to do but just don’t want to do it or don’t want to think about it. Asking them instead of telling them sends the message that we expect them to think and to already know.” (p. 184; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Patiently allowing children room to fail or misbehave while calmly setting limits communicates our expectations for good decision-making and respectful behavior. If we’re too afraid to give them autonomy or too critical of then when they fail, how can we expect em to learn? Of course, all parents make mistakes, being either too strict or too lenient or sometimes both, but we can adjust. Children will make mistakes, and they will adjust. The goal is to do this together.” (p. 193; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Parents are tempted to think they must give a child a consequence when he pushes back or the child won’t learn. ‘He can’t just get away with that!’ I hear. Actually, your child can still learn even if we don’t give a consequence for every pushback. Or we might believe that it is wrong for children to push back. Kids should just do what we say, the first time, without complaining, arguing, or getting upset, right? While that’s true, what’s more accurate is that our children are learning to live within our limits. In order to learn, they are going to push back. We need to resist the temptation to react and be prepared to respond in a variety of ways that work toward our long-term goals.” (p. 198; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“I have found that the best response to… painful statements [from our children] is to ignore them in the moment and bring them up later when things are calm. We should take our kids’ frustrations seriously, but if we allow ourselves to react to these childish, angry statements, we give them more credence than they deserve. It is not okay for children to talk to parents like this, but reacting in the moment is not the best way to teach.

It’s also not okay to let this statement go without following up later. But we want to keep our focus on the person of our child rather than her crazy actions and words.” (p. 217; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Consequences work best when they are used to reinforce the limits rather than to stop kids from misbehaving. We want our children to develop good judgement and learn to live the path of life in Christ. Consequences alone cannot do this.

Speeding tickets do not teach people how to drive, and consequences are not enough to teach our children how to succeed. Because it’s so easy to focus on stopping bad behavior instead of teaching life skills, it is easy to misuse or overuse them…” (pp. 219 – 220; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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(with regard to natural consequences:) “Never make decisions for your children or tell them what to do when they can figure things out by themselves. Letting children experience the effects of their decisions respects their intelligence, their ability to learn, and their developing judgment and autonomy. Kids learn better from first-hand experience than from our telling them what to do, anyway.” (p. 227; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“It’s tempting to look for more intense consequences when our children repeat the same misbehaviors so that ‘he never does that again!’ Parents need to resist the temptation of adding onto these consequences with a lecture, a lesson, or emotional intensity. Logical consequences work well when we implement them consistently as often as needed…. Children learn best from logical and natural consequences when we issue them the same way each time. They will learn, over time, that it is not worth it to disobey. More importantly, they will learn that we love and respect them. If we respect our children and want to teach them that their choices have effects, we simply issue the consequence patiently and consistently each time. Or, actually, as patiently and consistently as we can.” (p. 238; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

 

Gleanings from a Book: “When Mama Had Cancer” by Marjorie Kunch

Marjorie Kunch has already given Orthodox Christians a wonderful resource in her first book(s), “When My Baba Died”/ “When My Yiayia Died.” These first books drew on her experiences as a mortician. Now she offers, again through her own personal experience – this time, with breast cancer – another valuable resource: “When Mama Had Cancer.”

 

Suffering has been part of our human experience ever since the first humans’ choice to disobey God. We all suffer, some of us much more than others, but we all suffer. What we do with that suffering either makes us or breaks us in the long run. Author Marjorie Kunch has turned her recent suffering, her battle with breast cancer, into an opportunity. She documented this painful period of her life in order to help not just her own children, but anyone who reads her new book. The book teaches its readers that God is there with us when we suffer, there are helpers at every turn, and all of us – even the youngest – can help each other in times of suffering.

“When Mama Had Cancer” follows a family through the entire cancer experience: from diagnosis to head shaving (“the chemotherapy she had to take would make her hair all fall out anyway so she wanted it to come off on her terms”) to chemo/its subsequent side effects to surgery and finally back to health. The book acknowledges that not everyone fights cancer and continues their earthly life. The book offers gentle reminders that, in that case, it is “not their fault, your fault, the doctor’s fault, the priest’s fault, or even God’s fault, even though you may feel that way… It is simply their time to join the Heavenly Kingdom.”

This book explains difficult words in simple terms that will help children of varying ages to better understand what their loved one with cancer is experiencing. It is very positive in its outlook. The book does not gloss over the difficulty of the experience, but rather is positive in that it offers suggestions of hands-on ways that even children can help their sick loved one. It is full of scripture and Orthodox Christian traditions. The book suggests saints to whom someone with cancer can pray for help. Essentially, this book takes a very difficult and frightening experience and brings peace to the children reading it by helping them to understand what is happening, framed in the context of Orthodox Christianity, while also offering concrete ways that the children can help their loved one.

“When Mama Had Cancer” will likely be of the most help to a family experiencing cancer for themselves. However, we recommend it to all Orthodox Christian families, even those (currently) without anyone experiencing cancer. After all, “…if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it…” (1 Corinth. 12:26) and there are plenty of other Orthodox Christians and other neighbors suffering from this terrible disease. The book helps to clarify the cancer experience, removing some of the fear that comes with uncertainty and misunderstanding, and offering hope in the form of Orthodox Christian ways to respond and help, so it is a good one for all families to take in!

The illustrations in this book are photos with a brush-stroke effect, very similar in appearance to the photos in Marjorie’s previous books. These illustrations help the reader get a better sense of what the family is experiencing during the course of the experience. Kristi Tartara (who wrote “What Do You See At Liturgy”) did the graphic design and was the layout artist for the book.

“When Mama Had Cancer” will be available in early October 2017, from Pascha Press. Visit http://www.paschapress.com/home.html for details. Or order the book from Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/When-Mama-Cancer-Marjorie-Kunch/dp/0996404554/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1505956315&sr=1-4 or Barnes and Noble at https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/when-mama-had-cancer-marjorie-kunch/1127082593?ean=9780996404556.

Here are a few gleanings from the book, along with some ideas of how to use it with your family:
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“Cancer is a difficult topic, especially for children… Marjorie’s new book, “When Mama Had Cancer”, helps children see cancer from a Christian perspective. Her book explains what cancer is, what symptoms to expect, and what children can do to help… this book points children toward Christ. We are reminded that God has not forgotten us, and that cancer is not a reason for despair. During times of sickness, we are encouraged to trust in the love of God, the support of the Church, and the power of prayer.” ~ from Fr. Joseph Gleason’s forward to “When Mama Had Cancer”

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“During that season of our lives [when Mama had cancer], my sister and I learned that cancer patients have so many helpers. We learned that people really do live the commandment to love one another. All around the world there are people who care about my family. People on earth and in heaven, everywhere!” ~ from “When Mama Had Cancer” by Marjorie Kunch

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After reading the book “When Mama Had Cancer”, talk together about the children in the book. How did they help their mama? Does your family know anyone who is fighting cancer? How can you help them? Brainstorm a list, and find a way to do some of the items on that list. Minimally, you can say a prayer for them. You can pray the prayers for the sick (found in your service book or here https://www.goarch.org/-/prayers-for-the-sick). Or pray the “Akathist to the Theotokos the Healer of Cancer” found here: http://www.stvladimiraami.org/sheetmusic/akathistvsetsaritsa.pdf. Your family may want to make cards for the person fighting cancer, take them a meal, send them flowers, etc., to help to cheer them up. The important thing is that your family comes up with (and carries out) some ideas of ways that you can help this person and their family in their time of need.

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The boy narrating the story “When Mama Had Cancer” tells how his family practiced and prepared him for things he may need to know how to do should an emergency arise. They practiced dialing the phone and kept important numbers (like his dad’s) taped to the wall by the phone. He also knew to dial 911, and which circumstances required that type of call. He says, “…it made me feel safe to know what to do in any and all situations.”
Take this moment as a family to review important emergency basics together. A child who knows what to do in an emergency situation will be able to help, and helping will give them peace that they’ve done what they could. (While you are at it, you could also take this time to go over fire safety and escape plans, etc., as well.)

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“When Mama Had Cancer” lists numerous saints who are quick to pray for those suffering from cancer. The list includes St. John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco, St. Luke the physician, and St. Nektarios. Your family may find great encouragement by reading of some of the healings that God has wrought through their prayers!
Scroll down to find recent miracles of St. John the Wonderworker here: https://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/johnmx1.htm#_Toc525564613

St. Luke has worked miracles recently as well. Read about them here: http://myocn.net/recent-miracle-st-luke-blessed-surgeon/ and here: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2014/07/two-recent-miracles-of-st-luke-surgeon.html

St. Nektarios continues to work miracles as well through his prayers. Read a few of them here: http://www.monachos.net/conversation/topic/7070-miracles-by-st-nektarios/

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“When Mama had cancer, we were scared at first, but as she got stronger so did our family and faith. We learned how to rely on God and how to let others bless us, too. We learned about grace and humility. We worked together and helped Mama triumph over cancer… Even though my sister and I were small, we were helpers just as important as the grown-ups, doctors, and nurses.

It is so special that we Orthodox Christians have many helpers in our time of need: God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, a multitude of saints, family, church members, and friends.
Can you be a helper for your loved one, too?”
After reading this closing portion of the book, discuss how each member of your family can help someone you know who is living with a chronic illness. Together, make a plan of what you will each do to help, and then carry out your plan!

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From “biopsy” to “JP drain” to “oncologist” to “venerate”, the glossary at the end of the book “When Mama Had Cancer” is very helpful, especially if your family has a family member or friend fighting cancer. To help your children learn and understand these terms, create a matching game with one card containing the term, and its match containing the definition. Pair the cards together after reading the book. Then practice the words by playing a simple game like “memory” or “go fish” with the cards.

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“The cancer patient is seldom alone in pain and suffering. Family members share in the struggle as well, because of love. God heals through many ways: the doctor’s touch, the nurse’s care, and the love provided by family, friends and church. All these are the presence of God in the life of the patient.
If and when we know anyone with cancer in our church, let us show that when one member of the body hurts, the whole body hurts. Whatever we can do at the time, we should do it. If a visit is not possible, then a phone call, a postcard, or helping out with a meal will be much appreciated. Most of all, pray for the healing of that person, whether the cancer is at stage five or stage one. A sick person should know that he or she is surrounded by believers in a merciful God who cares.” ~ Fr. Elias Bitar, “Thoughts on Living With Cancer”
Read the article in its entirety here: http://antiochian.org/node/25626

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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