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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)

***

“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)

***

“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)

***

“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)

***

“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)

***

“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)

***

“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)

***

“…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)

***

“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:

***

“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)

***

“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)

***

“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)

***

“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)

***

“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)

***

“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)

***

“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)

***

(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)

***

“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”

***

“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

***

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.

***

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.)

***

“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/

***

“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!

***

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.

***

“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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

Gleanings From a Book: “The Sweetness of Grace” by Constantina Palmer

I was so delighted when I found out that this book was being published! I had already read Presvytera Constantina’s book “The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery,” more than once. I was so spiritually encouraged and challenged by the content of that book that as soon as I found out she had written a second book, I could not wait to read it. And, as expected, “The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory” did not disappoint.

I took this new book along on a trip and despite its 280+ pages, I finished reading it before I was even halfway through my second day of travel. “The Sweetness of Grace” is an easy read. The application of the content, however, is far from easy. Presvytera Constantina’s learnings, which she so readily shares in each of her books left me laughing, crying, covered in goose bumps, and longing to become the human person that God has created me to be.

Each chapter of this book is titled with one of the Beatitudes and consists of stories and encouragement related to that Beatitude. Some of the stories are ones that Presvytera Constantina has heard along her journey. Others are her own personal experiences. Every story points the reader towards godliness, both encouraging and challenging by turns.

In case you are wondering about the name of the book itself, Presvytera Constantina writes, “I’ve called this collection of stories “The Sweetness of Grace” because I feel this title captures the one element of Orthodoxy that does not change, whether one lives in Asia, Europe, or on a Canadian island. Whether one is a priest, monastic, or layperson, the sweetness of grace is offered to us all: through the trials, through the victories, we struggle to acquire and hold onto it, and when we taste it, we want to share that sweetness with others. By sharing these stories I hope to share the sweetness I was blessed to taste.” (p. 11)

The book is available for purchase here:

http://store.ancientfaith.com/the-sweetness-of-grace/

Here are a few bite-sized “gleanings” from each chapter. The following quotes were just a few of the many things that jumped out to me in the chapter under which they are listed. I hope that they will both encourage and challenge you, as well as offer you a taste of what to expect when you read this powerful book.

***

“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”

 

(about a homily by Fr. Andreas Konanas) “He made reference to spiritualizing domestic tasks in our quest for sanctity. He described, for instance, how when we are in our kitchen cutting an onion and our eyes begin to water on account of the vapors, we should use this for our own gain. Even though the tears are not proceeding from a contrite heart in actuality, we can use them for our own devices and reflect on our sins, ‘cry’ for our sins, as Fr. Andreas said. He mentioned using simple things as opportunities for prayer, such as taking off our coat. When we take off our coat, we can say an internal prayer: ‘Just as I take off this coat, so remove mys ins from me, O Lord.'” (p. 21)

 

(quoting Elder Nikon, a Russian abbot) “The measure of a man’s spiritual growth is his humility. The more advanced he is spiritually the more humble he is. And vice versa; the more humble, the higher spiritually. Neither prayer rules, nor prostrations, nor fasts, nor reading God’s Word—only humility brings a man closer to God.Without humility, even the greatest spiritual feats are not only useless but can altogether destroy a person. In our time we see that if a person prays a little more than is customary, reads a little of the Psalter, keeps the fast—he already thinks of himself as better than others, he judges his neighbors and begins to teach without being asked. All this shows his spiritual emptiness, his departure from the Lord. Fear a high opinion of yourself.” (p. 39)

 

***

“Blessed are those who mourn…”

 

“The first time Sr. Ephraimia stepped out of Vespers at the monastery she later called home, she felt as though her heart would burst open with spiritual exaltation. The grace of the monastery was so strong it overwhelmed her. Hidden from the exiting crowd by the shadow of one of the buildings, she sat down.

Tears poured from her eyes… How much longing filled her heart then! It spilled over, she couldn’t contain it any longer, having struggled to restrain herself during the service. She sat there alone and hidden from the world, giving thanks to God for having brought her home…” (p. 45)

 

(On a time when Presvytera Constantina happened upon a humble beggar for the second time) “This time I distinctly remember giving him change… I reached into my pocket and saw that I only had 300 won (about 30 cents). I cringed that that was all I had, but still I reached down and put the nearly useless amount of money into the beggar’s hand. To my shock, he grabbed my hand, pulled it close to his lowered head, and kissed it. A kiss from a lowly beggar: perhaps not something most would consider a great gift—or so it might seem to one not on the receiving end of such a gift. I pulled my hand back in surprise.

He raised his eyes and I saw he was crying. Tears began to well up in my own eyes…

The feeling that energized in me the moment the dear beggar kissed my hand is something very difficult to express. It is humbling to have one’s hand kissed, and even more so considering all I gave to the poor beggar was a mere 30 cents. But that is life in Christ: all we have to offer God is a few cents, and He gives us back one hundredfold.” (pp. 57-58)

 

“…There are so many saints waiting to intercede on our behalf for the numerous things that cause pain and suffering, torment and worry, those things that cast shadows over our lives and souls and make us think the darkness will never depart. All we have to do is cry out, they are waiting for us to do so. St. Nektarios of Pentapolis once said (after his repose), ‘It’s as if we saints are in retirement… the people don’t pray to us, don’t entreat us, don’t ask us for anything, don’t give us any handiwork to do. They don’t give us the opportunity to pray to God for them.'” (p 68)

 

***

“Blessed are the meek…”

 

“…it is one thing to speak with wisdom and quite another to shine with wisdom, and we know from the Scriptures that a spiritual man’s wisdom ‘makes his face shine.’ (Eccl. 8:1)” (p. 79)

 

“There was a baby girl at our church in Thessaloniki that the whole parish was delighted to see every Sunday. Although she was only a few months old, she would begin to squeal, kick her chubby legs, and flail her arms with joy and excitement every time her father brought her up to venerate the icons before Holy Communion. She would continue this ritual of squealing and kicking until the priest exited the Royal Doors and she received the Immaculate mysteries. This went on for months.

People were amazed. They would smile and whisper to each other. It was a beautiful thing to witness, because we all understood that the baby perceived the presence of God and expressed her delight in the only way a baby can.” (p. 95)

 

“Children are so naturally guileless and pure that introducing them to an environment of prayer and good works, such as a monastery, impresses on their malleable hearts from a young age a genuine example of what it is to serve Christ through love…

All we need to do is give our children the proper predispositions toward faith, prayer, and good works, and they will begin teaching us more than we could ever teach them…

If only we were as obedient and faithful as these little ones. I’m sure whole volumes of books could be filled with the wonderful works of faithful children—works that would put us adults to shame.” (pp.101-103)

 

***

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness…”

 

“…Work and prayer are not mutually exclusive, but, as Gerontissa Philaret used to say, ‘Work, when combined with the Jesus Prayer, becomes prayer.’ The same thing occurs when we engage in the services with our mind and heart even while our hands work…”

(She points out the many resources we have to be able to listen to services when we are unable to attend.) “…we can listen to them while washing the dishes or running errands in the car. This is not to supplant attending services in our parish or even praying them privately at home, it is rather a means to attend services we would otherwise miss altogether. The point is to put our mind and heart in church even if our body can’t be there.” (pp. 110-111)

 

“We must struggle to keep our attention on worship and prayer. If it strays, we shouldn’t become distraught; we should simply call our mind back. Even if it strays a thousand times, the point is to struggle. Our thoughts have such strength that they can carry us away from church, and so conversely, our thoughts can also carry us to church even when our bodies are elsewhere.” (p. 112)

 

“While we were leaving the monastery after one (chanting) class, a group of us were walking together, and one of the girls lamented that she had eaten too many sweets that night… ‘you know where those calories go?’ (she) asked seriously. ‘Straight to my logismous [thoughts], that’s where!’ Although we all laughed about the calories going to her thoughts, this little observation really struck me… My dear classmate was onto something when she perceived that eating too many sweets goes to her thoughts. Our body is not unrelated to our soul, nor is living in the world unrelated to spiritual exercises. May God help us to see with our spiritual eyes and make an effort even in little ways, so that by struggling and being victorious in the small battles, we might win the great battles and receive great spiritual spoils as a result.” (pp 129-131)

 

***

“Blessed are the merciful…”

 

“Abba Dorotheos writes: ‘The Lord Himself said: “Be merciful, just as your heavenly Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6:36) He did not say: “Fast as your heavenly Father fasts,” neither did he say: “Give away your possessions as your heavenly Father is without possessions’; but he did say: ‘Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.’ This is because this virtue—above all—emulates God and is a characteristic of him.” (p. 144)

 

“Giving money to those who need it, offering a dish of home-cooked food to a busy or struggling family, caring for and visiting the sick, taking time to sit and chat with the lonely, and tending to the needs and expenses of Orthodox temples, small and large, are all wonderful ways to offer our money, time, care, and love to others and by extension to Christ Himself: ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (Matt. 25:40)” (pp. 149-150)

 

“‘One of the quickest ways to lose grace is to judge your fellow human being,’ the hieromonk told a small group of us after a baptismal service…

‘Justify others. Condemn yourself. Say, “I’m acting like this, feeling this way because of my passions. If I didn’t have passions I wouldn’t act like this, react like this…” Don’t even pass judgement in your mind,’ he continued. ‘Fight thoughts: push them out, don’t let them stay in your head… Be compassionate and loving toward others, just as the Lord was and is compassionate and loving toward you.’

And with those words we left with the weighty knowledge that one of the easiest sins to slip into results in one of the quickest departures of grace.” (pp. 158-159)

 

***

 

“Blessed are the pure in heart…”

“We go to great measures to preserve the good quality of so many material possessions. Many women, for example, are mortified if their expensive purse is laid on the ground. Why? Because it is valuable and worthy of care so that it will last and keep its beautiful form. Some women even keep their leather purses in special bags when they are not being used so as to protect their quality. And yet, what measures do we take to keep our nous and heart from becoming unclean? Isn’t it true that we leave the doors and windows of our senses wide open, never paying attention to what enters?

We need first to become aware of the fact that our nous and heart become defiled by the things we watch, listen to, look at, and read about, and then we need to take the necessary measures to limit the infiltration of sinful sights and sounds by means of prayer and watchfulness… If we guard our senses and occupy our nous with prayer, our heart will…become an abode for the Holy Trinity…” (p. 177)

 

“Even if the prayer of the heart is not something we can or will receive in exchange for our meager spiritual striving, it is worth the struggle. What is sweeter than to have our whole being in constant and continual communication with God Almighty?” (p. 190)

 

***

“Blessed are the peacemakers…”

 

(Quoting an abbess on the Feast of St. Basil) “…My wish for the new year is for everyone to experience divine illumination, for us to truly see ourselves and to truly see the blessings of God… It’s difficult for us to see ourselves, our ‘old man.’ And sometimes, we see him so.. alive, and we have to cast him down: ‘Back off! Don’t think like that!’ We need to see ourselves, our sins. And at the same time bad things can happen: unemployment, illness, difficulties… many view these things as bad. But we, as children of God—as we wish to be called—look at these things as blessings. We should consider these things blessings. Everything that happens to us happens for our own good.” (p. 211)

 

(on identifying with a particular ethnic group in the church) “How we came to the Faith, how long we’ve lived the Faith, or whether we are members of an ethnic group is beside the point. The Christian life is not about where we’ve been but where we’re going. Christ doesn’t relate to us as we were, but who we are and who we are becoming.” (p. 214)

 

“Once Sr. Evsevia read us a story from the “Evergetinos” about a monk who was always displeased with his brotherhood and the monastery he was living in. He went from one to the next, to the next, always dissatisfied with the other fathers.

Finally, he arrived at the conclusion that neither the monastery nor the brotherhood was at fault, but that he himself needed to endure temptation in the place he found himself. So he wrote on a piece of paper: ‘In the name of our Savior the Lord Jesus Christ, I will be patient in all things,’ and resolved to remain in his monastery no matter what. Whenever he became upset with the other fathers, he took this piece of paper out of his pocket, unfolded it, and quietly read it to himself. Folding it back up and placing it in his pocket, he would exhibit patience.

Seeing this go on for some time, some of the fathers began to suspect the monk was reading a magic spell written on this piece of paper, and they went to the abbot to confess their suspicion. He in turn went to the monk and demanded to see the paper. When he read what was written thereon, he told the fathers, ‘This father does well.’

All of us were moved and impressed by this story, and one of our classmates brought a number of small pieces of decorated cardstock to class the next week. On each she had written the monk’s helpful words in a beautiful script. She gave one to each of us so that we too could remember to be patient in the face of all the trials and tribulations life throws at us.” (p. 222)

 

(on making a commitment to safeguard the peace of the community in which we live) “This simple commitment brings with it immeasurable protection. Many times we allow ourselves to vent. We convince ourselves that it is better to get it all out than to allow our anger to boil up inside us, as the saying goes. Unfortunately, we are wrong on two counts for engaging in such behavior.

First, venting allows our thoughts and suspicions, our hurt feelings and offenses, to become solidified. We confirm our thoughts by justifying them, explaining why we are right and the other person is wrong, how we are wounded and the other is a cruel offender. Second, we pull the other person or persons listening to us into sin with us. We infiltrate their thoughts and perceptions, tainting the way they think and feel about the supposed offender. This is actually worse than the first wrongdoing, because we are not only sinning but creating a stumbling block for someone else.” (p. 237)

 

***

“Blessed are those who are persecuted…”

 

“…our spiritual life is not a game easily won. As Elder Joseph the Hesychast says, the powers and rulers of darkness ‘are not fought with sweets and marshmallows, but with streams of tears, with pain of soul until death, with utter humility, and with great patience.'” (p. 253)

 

“Once, when St. Euphemia the Great Martyr appeared to Elder Paisios the Athonite, he asked her how she managed to withstand the physical afflictions of martyrdom. She answered him, ‘If I had known what glory the saints have I would have done whatever I could to go through even greater torments.'” (p. 262)

 

“‘We should always make the sign of the cross, before we do something, before we speak,’ Sr. Silouani instructed us. ‘While caught up in a conversation, even if we can’t make the sign of the cross over our mouth externally, we can do it internally, noetically, so as to be protected, to say what is necessary with the right words in an appropriate manner.'” (p. 264)

 

“How easy it is to think, ‘I’d willingly die for Christ,’ but how hard it is to live for Him.” (p. 273)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Gleanings from a Book: “Icon” by Georgia Briggs

I did not want this book to end. That is the first time in a long time that I’ve read a book and felt that way. “Icon” by Georgia Briggs may be aimed at young adults, but it is no ordinary young-adult-aimed fiction book, and is a great read for adults as well.

The story line in this book is believable, though fictional, and I found it hard to put the book down because of both the story line and the Orthodox insights throughout the book. “Icon” is the moving story of a young Orthodox Christian girl in a era similar to our own, except that in this dystopian tale (set in 0000 ET, “Era of Tolerance,” with flashbacks to the Pascha before ET began), it is suddenly no longer legal to be a Christian, most especially an Orthodox one. “Icon” is a story of loss, finding, miracles, death, light, and restoration, written so believably that the reader thinks “this could really happen!” It is a gripping story of Faith put to the test.

This book challenges its readers to think about their own Faith. What if all that we currently do and take for granted with regard to our Faith were suddenly illegal and we were being watched at every turn? What if our family members died/disappeared simply because of their Faith? What if we were left alone and had to move to new surroundings and change even our very name to one unassociated with our Faith? And what if all of this happened to us at the tender age of 12? My guess is that many of us would not react with the same endurance that Euphrosyne does. (But neither is this one of those books that glosses everything over. Euphrosyne definitely struggles with doubt and temptation all along the way, and the reader struggles along with her, knowing what she ought to do, but also understanding the reality of what will happen if she stands strong for her Faith!) The book is written so realistically that one almost feels the need to keep an eye out for “traps” in his/her own life after reading it.

After reading Euphrosyne’s struggles and then thinking through the questions that those struggles point to, the reader is left with the determination to take nothing about the Faith for granted. Readers will continue to realize the blessing that icons are in their life, whether the human-written ones or the icons that are still wearing the flesh that God Himself wrote. When a reader makes the sign of the cross, they will ponder the “streaks of light” that Euphrosyne could “see” traced over her Orthodox friends’ chests near the end of the book. The Divine Liturgy will not be the “same old” liturgy so easily taken for granted… I could go on and on (at the risk of divulging too much of the story) with ways that the reader will be challenged to ponder their faith. Suffice it to say that this book makes its readers really think about their Faith and then value it like never before.

I would encourage families of middle-grade-years or older children to get their hands on this book as soon as you can. Parents should read it first (it won’t take you too long: as I mentioned before, it is hard to put down!), in order to have a grasp on what is coming, and to best know which of your children would benefit most from reading it next. Or, if you can, after reading it yourself, read the book aloud together as a family (if everyone in your family could handle it – but only you will know that). Regardless of how you read this book, be sure to talk together about it after you read. This book can help to strengthen your family’s Faith when you read and discuss it!
Chances are, when you finish this read, you will hope along with me that author Georgia Briggs will write again, and soon!

Purchase your own copy of “Icon” here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/icon-a-novel/

Learn more about author Georgia Briggs here: https://georgiabriggsauthor.wordpress.com/

Here are some quotes from different parts of “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, along with suggestions of what your family could discuss at that part of the book. (With apologies for spoilers, which are difficult to avoid with this book!) We hope that these selections can help to give you an idea of the types of discussions that your family can have while reading this book:
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“My hands shake as I reach to pick the icon [of St. Nicholas] up. It’s small and light in my hands. I turn it sideways. It’s only about a quarter of an inch thick, but the bullet hasn’t gone all the way through… I was holding it in front of me when he fired the gun… It must’ve stopped the bullet, and the force blew it through my hands and knocked me over… I sit back down on the ground and gaze at the icon. St. Nicholas looks so calm. The bullet in his chest bothers me. I start to pick at it with my fingernails, trying to pry it loose… It’s wedged in tightly, but after a few minutes I manage to work it out. A thin trickle of blood runs from the hole in the saint’s chest.” ~ “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, pp. 30-31

This experience of Euphrosyne’s offers your family the opportunity to discuss miracles wrought by icons. What miracles do you know of? Take time to research and learn about more. God is at work through His saints, and sometimes even through their icons!
***

“All this is so fake, I think, looking around at the plastic plants and uncomfortable chairs. Everything about this world is fake and watered down—the holidays, the people, the ‘just accept everybody’ thing that Dr. Snead keeps telling me. How do they all live in this place and not go crazy? My grandparents, Miss Linda, the other kids in school. Do they really believe this is all there is?

Maybe I know better because of what I’ve been through. Or maybe I’m just crazy and trying to make it all mean something.” ~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, p. 74

Take some time to discuss Euphrosyne’s thoughts on her world. What do you think of what she thinks? Have you ever thought something similar about your own world? How does the world – even as it is right now – compare to the Heavenly Kingdom, God’s kingdom?

***

“No one’s watching me.

I dance around a little, twirling and leaping, the ice squeaking under my feet. Soon my socks are wet and I’m breathing hard, but I don’t care. I twirl again and slip and fall. I lie back and make a snow angel…

…I look up at the dark sky without meaning to, like I’m going to see God up there or something.

No God in sight, but a few stars blink back at me.

For some reason it’s easier to believe in God when you’re standing alone in the snow on a cold morning and looking at the stars.” ~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, p. 77

Ask your family why they think the author put a snow scene into this story (which is set in Alabama). What could it symbolize? How does the snow purify or refresh Euphrosyne? What do you think of the last statement? Have you ever had a similar experience? When?
***

“When I notice the other priest in the altar, I can’t remember whether he’s been there all along and I just wasn’t paying attention. He’s helping Father Innocent like a deacon or one of the altar boys, but he’s about a foot taller than Father Innocent and he seems… different. Brighter, or more colorful or something. I wish I could get a glimpse of his face. He’s robed in red, not gold like the others, and he has a white stole with blue crosses draped around his neck and over one shoulder.

…Now that I look around, though, there are strange people in the congregation too. More people than were here when liturgy started. …Am I going crazy? Does nobody else see this?

…Everything around me is getting greyer and greyer. Everything except the icons and the strangers. I can see them better now. They seem to fill every corner of the room. They’re all different ages, some young, some old, their faces shining. Some wear crowns, many hold crosses in their hands. Some are dressed in rags, but they’re so beautiful that the rags seem beautiful too.” ~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, pp. 154-155

After reading this passage, talk together about who you think Euphrosyne is seeing in this part of the story. Discuss the reality of the saints’ and angels’ presence in the Divine Liturgy every time we celebrate it together. How does it make you feel? Does it make you want to change anything about the way in which you attend the Divine Liturgy? If so, what?

***

“‘I’m Shamar,’ he says, ‘I’m your guardian angel.’

Right away I remember the icon that used to hang between my bed and Kat’s, of the curly-haired angel in blue robes and a red cloak, the one carrying a sword.

‘So you’ve been here all along?’ I ask.

Shamar nods. ‘Ever since you were baptized.’

‘You were old enough to be a guardian angel then?’ He can’t be more than seventeen or eighteen years old.

‘I’m a lot older than I look,’ he says with a smile.

‘Oh.’ It’s weird to think he’s been watching me my whole life. I think of all the stupid things I’ve done, all the times I was mean to Kat or whined to Mom and Dad. It’s kind of embarrassing.” ~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, p. 189

Talk together as a family about guardian angels. How long has each member of your family’s guardian angel been guarding him/her? Encourage each other to think about the fact that your angel is with you always and sees what you do, while also protecting you. Take a moment to pray the prayer to your guardian angel, thanking them for their protection and love. Find the prayer here: http://www.orthodoxprayer.org/OtherPrayers.html

***

“When I get close, I realize I can see more than just the stuff on the outside. I can see her soul too. And it makes me sad. Its silver glow has dark scars across it. There’s a jagged rip over her heart and another on her right hand, the hand she’s holding over her face as she cries. The one across her heart looks old, but the one on her hand is fresh. I hover beside her, trying to touch her.

‘Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy.’ she whispers over and over again. She makes the sign of the cross, and her fingers leave a trail of light that lingers for a moment before disappearing.”  ~ from “Icon” by Georgia Briggs, p. 195

Talk together about this passage after reading it. Why do you think her soul glows? Where did the scars come from? Why do her fingers leave a trail of light when she crosses herself? How does this make you think differently about your own soul and your own prayers?