Tag Archives: Book Review

A Closer Look at “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour: Lessons 12 and 13

This is the final portion of a series of closer looks at Fr. Michael Shanbour’s book “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” (available here: https://www.wenorthodox.com/product-page/the-good-samaritan-a-children-s-catechism). This beautifully illustrated hardcover book houses an Orthodox Christian catechism that is intended to be read with children. Find our overview of the book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/12/11/gleanings-from-a-book-the-good-samaritan-a-childrens-catechism-by-the-very-reverend-fr-michael-shanbour/. In each post of this series, we focused on two chapters (called “lessons”) in the book. We have shared a synopsis of each lesson followed by a handful of quotes found within its pages. We have also occasionally included a few related links offering additional background or information to the parents. It is our hope that these posts will be a useful resource for parents who are sharing the book with their children, as families learn together about the Orthodox Christian Faith.

Lesson 12: Fasting

The twelfth lesson of “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” begins with a reminder that true prayer is being with our best friend. The lesson asks the reader if they only think and talk when they’re with a friend, or if they use their whole body (for example, to wave or give a high five and to play) when they’re with their friend. Of course, the whole body is involved! It is the same way with prayer.

But how can we pray with our whole body? There are many ways, including standing to pray, making prostrations, reverently kissing things (and people) that point us to God, making the sign of the cross, etc. But the lesson also goes on to say that we can pray with our body by fasting.

The lesson speaks of how fasting shapes our obedience and trains our spiritual muscles. Just like we work out to make our body strong, fasting helps to make our spiritual muscles strong. It cites examples from the lives of the saints, including a story of one time when Fr. Arseny, in the Soviet prison camp, leaned on his fasting and prayer, and they made him strong (not just spiritually, but physically in this instance!).

This lesson makes it clear that we need to fast, not just because it is good for us, but because it is a necessary part of our spiritual life.

 

Here are a few quotes from the lesson:

***

“We love God and pray to Him with all that we are, and that includes our strength, our muscles, our bones, and every cell in our bodies. We can use our bodies to help our heart and our mind and our soul to pray, to be with God and to know Him better.” (p. 99, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

“Fasting is forgetting about our hunger for food so that we can be hungry for God. If we fast properly, it helps us to focus our mind and soul and heart on the Lord. When we fast, we empty our stomachs in order to fill our souls and hearts more fully with prayer.” (p. 4, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

“Saint John Chrysostom said that fasting is one wing and prayer is the other. Have you ever seen a bird fly with one wing? We need both wings if we are to fly spiritually toward God.” (p. 101, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

Parents and older children will benefit from listening to this podcast about fasting from Fr. Thomas Hopko (of blessed memory). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OgWh8C7ezNE

***

 

CHILDRENS CATECHISM - COVER, FRONT copy

 

Lesson 13: Almsgiving

The thirteenth lesson of “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” picks up where the twelfth chapter left off: by reminding the reader that we need prayer and fasting, the two wings that help us fly to God. Then it goes on to state that we need more than those two things if we wish to fly to God. The third essential thing to help us grow toward God is almsgiving. Fr. Michael calls almsgiving the wind that will lift our prayer and fasting “wings” to God.

The lesson goes on to talk about how God gives us alms: He gives us love, rain, food, clothing, cheer… He knows what we need, and He gives that to us. The lesson explains that “alms” means mercy. It goes on to explain what mercy is and how important it is for us to give mercy, because of how merciful God is to us.

The lesson takes a look at how we should show mercy, or give alms: not loudly to get attention, but secretly. It cites St. Nicholas’ example, and explains that God’s rewards last forever. The reader is encouraged to share alms with others out of love, seeing them as Christ Himself. (The lesson includes the story of St. Martin, who shared his cloak with a beggar, and that night he had a dream in which Christ was wearing that cloak!)

The lesson concludes with a reminder that faith, hope, and love are the greatest things. Prayer shows that we have faith. Fasting places our hope in God. And Almsgiving gives God’s love to others while also growing His love in our own heart. This is why prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are so necessary to our Christian life: they are ways that we show that we are living out “the greatest things”!

May God grow all of us closer to Himself as we live in this way.

 

Here are a few quotes from the lesson:

***

“Prayer and fasting are like two wings. But almsgiving is the “wind” that lifts our wings upward to God.” (p. 105, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

“The Lord is telling us to do good so that God will notice, not other people. Because then God will reward us. If we do it so that others will think we are good or special, we may become prideful and there is no heavenly reward in that.” (p. 106, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

“People with little, tiny hearts have a really hard time loving and showing mercy. But God wants our hearts to be really big. Is your heart big? Can it get bigger? Are you giving alms so that you will have rewards in heaven?” (p. 107, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

Faith, hope and love are the three great virtues of the Christian life. Everything we have learned in our catechism is meant to lead us to these qualities and to this virtuous way of life, so that we may be united to our one God and Father, through His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit—the Holy Trinity, one in essence and undivided. Amen!” (p. 108, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

 

A Closer Look at “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour: Lessons 10 and 11

This is the sixth in a series of closer looks at Fr. Michael Shanbour’s book “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” (available here: https://www.wenorthodox.com/product-page/the-good-samaritan-a-children-s-catechism). This beautifully illustrated hardcover book houses an Orthodox Christian catechism that is intended to be read with children. Find our overview of the book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/12/11/gleanings-from-a-book-the-good-samaritan-a-childrens-catechism-by-the-very-reverend-fr-michael-shanbour/. In each post of this series, we will focus on two chapters (called “lessons”) in the book. We will begin with a synopsis of each lesson followed by a handful of quotes found within its pages. We may also occasionally include a few related links offering additional background or information to the parents. It is our hope that these posts will be a useful resource for parents who are sharing the book with their children, as families learn together about the Orthodox Christian Faith.

 

Lesson 10: Repentance and Confession

The tenth lesson of “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour takes a close look at repentance and the sacrament of Confession. It begins by reminding us that baptism bestows the Light of Christ on us, but we need to keep the faith in order to grow that Light in our hearts. It talks briefly about what we can do to grow that Light: prayer, fasting, love, kindness, Communion, etc., are all ways that we can grow the fire of Christ that has been lit in our souls.

The lesson continues by taking a look at what happens when we sin: the fire in our souls begins to reduce. It compares sinning to shooting an arrow in the wrong direction instead of aiming at the target. The lesson goes on to teach its readers that repentance restores us when we sin.

The lesson talks about the parable of the Prodigal Son, comparing us to him, and reminding us that God is that loving Father, and that the Church is our home. Repentance, or the Sacrament of Confession, is how we come back to the Father and tell Him how sorry we are for what we’ve done. The lesson also returns to the medical reference that is a theme in the book, this time showing how confession is like coming to the doctor to show our illness (sin) and thus allow Jesus to begin to heal us.

The lesson finishes with encouragement to repent daily, and not to despair. Christ, our Doctor, wants to heal us. Confession is one way that we work together with Him, cooperating toward our own healing.

Here are a few quotes from the lesson:

***

“The newly baptized person is just a little baby Othodox Christian (even if they are eighty years old!). We have to grow and become stronger in our faith, just like a baby has to grow and learn to walk and talk… The Bible tells us after we’re baptized, after we receive the light, we need to continue to ‘walk in the light’ (1 Jn. 1:7). And if we do, the light of Christ in us grows and burns brighter and brighter.” (p. 82, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

“What do we do when we’re playing and we fall down? Do we just stay there? No! We get back up, right? That’s what we need to do when we sin, too. And what do we call getting back up after we sin? It’s called repentance.” (p. 86, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

“When we were baptized we received our white baptismal robe. The robe meant that our soul had been washed clean. When we sin we get our baptismal robe dingy and dirty. But a heartfelt confession makes it white and bright again.  Also, when we sin we hurt our soul, and we need medicine to be healed. We come to Confession to show Jesus our sin. And Jesus, our Physician, our loving Doctor, heals us.” (p. 87, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

In this 15-minute video, Fr. Ted talks more about Confession. Older children and adults will benefit from hearing his talk. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdfPrbjo2oc&feature=youtu.be

***

CHILDRENS CATECHISM - COVER, FRONT copy

 

Lesson 11: Prayer

 

The eleventh lesson of the book begins with a look at why we sin and need repentance in the first place: we forget God. When Adam and Eve walked in the garden with God, they could easily pray always: they didn’t forget God – no! They were right there, walking with Him! But after they chose to sin, they couldn’t feel His love as they once had, and love for Him began to be replaced with putting their attention and love on other things.

The lesson goes on to remind its readers that prayer is not just words: it’s a state of being with God. It tells a story from St. Herman of Alaska, when he wished aloud that he would love God with all of his heart, never forgetting Him and always being so happy to have moments with Him. He was expressing his longing to experience prayer as it was meant to be experienced.

The lesson goes on to discuss how to learn true prayer. First, we listen to the prayers of the Church. We pray as Christ taught us to pray. The lesson talks about other ways that we’ve been given words to pray: through the Bible, the Liturgy, and the Saints. Even the angels have taught us to pray! (The lesson tells the story of how we learned the Trisagion Hymn when a boy learned it from the angels.) The lesson finishes by encouraging us to pray regularly, and to pray the “Jesus Prayer.”

All of these prayers help us to reach our goal, which is to always be with God.

Here are a few quotes from the lesson:

***

“Now, do you have a best friend, or at least a very good friend? Do you love being with them? Do you think about them when you’re not with them? …This is how we ought to be with God; like best friends. Do you forget your best friend? No! And we should try not to forget God either. Do you know what it is called when we remember God? It is called prayer. Prayer is when our hearts are joined together with God.” (p. 91, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

“How we pray to God, how we address Him, the words we use, are important. Our words have to be holy and humble and true. What if you said to your best friend: …‘You have three noses!’? It might be funny at first, but after a while it would make your friend feel like you don’t really know them or appreciate them for who they are. Our words to God should be truthful.” (p. 94, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

“Saying the Jesus Prayer is like walking through a field in the same place every day. What happens if you walk over weeds and brush over and over? You clear a path, a road, right? If we use the Jesus Prayer a lot, we make a path in our heart that keeps us always with God.” (p. 96, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

Listen to (or read the transcript of) Mother Magdalena (of Holy Transfiguration Monastery)’s talk about how prayer helps us to make Christ the center of our life here: https://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/st._ignatius_womens_retreat/prayer_as_a_means_to_make_christ_the_center_of_our_life_at_all_times

***

 

A Closer Look at “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour: Lessons 6 and 7

This is the fourth in a series of closer looks at Fr. Michael Shanbour’s book “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” (available here: https://www.wenorthodox.com/product-page/the-good-samaritan-a-children-s-catechism). This beautifully illustrated hardcover book houses an Orthodox Christian catechism that is intended to be read with children. Find our overview of the book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/12/11/gleanings-from-a-book-the-good-samaritan-a-childrens-catechism-by-the-very-reverend-fr-michael-shanbour/. In each post of this series, we will focus on two chapters (called “lessons”) in the book. We will begin with a synopsis of each lesson followed by a handful of quotes found within its pages. We may also occasionally include a few related links offering additional background or information to the parents. It is our hope that these posts will be a useful resource for parents who are sharing the book with their children, as families learn together about the Orthodox Christian Faith.

 

Lesson 6: Holy Tradition

 

The sixth lesson in “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” reminds its readers that God wants to embrace us with His love through Christ, who is our Healer. Our priest works as Christ’s “mouth” and “hands”. He helps to give us the “medicine” of God’s divine grace.

Fr. Michael compares God’s grace to a river, which runs through the Church in the form of Holy Tradition. The saints have lived holy lives in this Tradition, and passed it down to all of us. They have shown us through their lives what it looks like to live in the flow of God’s grace.

He also compares the Tradition of the Church to a few other things. For example, a treasure map. Just as a treasure map helps us find treasure, the Tradition of the Church helps us to become holy, to be closer to God, the greatest treasure that exists! Holy Tradition is also like the instructions for a Christmas gift: it helps us to know how to put the pieces of our life together in the proper way.

Five smaller “streams” feed into the “River” of Tradition. This lesson takes a quick look at them as well. They include the Divine Liturgy and the Sacraments of the Church; the Scriptures; the Seven Ecumenical Councils; the Lives of the Saints (and what they wrote); and the physical aspects of the Church (Holy Icons, the Church building itself, Church music). All of these things work together to flow the grace of God into our lives, just as many small rivers flow together into one.

Here are a few quotes from the lesson:

***

“…what is this medicine that God offers to heal us and lead us back to Himself? What is it called? It is called His divine grace. Grace is God’s own life. We also call it His power, His energies, and His love for us.” (p. 46, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

“Holy Tradition is not just a set of ideas that really smart people made up one day, or even over many centuries. It is the way of living that brings the healing grace of God into our souls.” (p. 47, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

“Holy Tradition is like the instructions for your Christmas present. Our Church Tradition provides us with instructions on how to live as a Christian and how the Church should function, so that we know God’s truth and grace is flowing into us.” (p. 50, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

“What will you do with the Holy Tradition of the Church? Live it! Love it! And Lend it! Pass it down to others! When we do this, we become part of the River of Grace of Holy Tradition: when we practice it, protect it, and pass it down.” (p. 52, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

CHILDRENS CATECHISM - COVER, FRONT copy

 

Lesson 7: The Priesthood

 

The seventh lesson of “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” begins by reminding the reader of the River of Grace (Holy Tradition) that flows through the Church to the entire world. Certain men have been given a special responsibility to protect the River of Grace: these men are our priests.

In his typical child-friendly writing style, Fr. Michael reminds us that there are things we should not do when we go swimming, because they’re dangerous. To help protect us and keep us safe, there are lifeguards. In a similar way, in the Church, our bishops are like lifeguards. They help to preserve the Faith of the apostles. They appoint priests to be other lifeguards, since the bishops can’t be everywhere at once.

The priesthood is a gift of grace given to men who have been called by God to do this work. Jesus is our High Priest, and He gives the gift of the Priesthood to the bishops and priests of the Church. These men are not perfect, and they can’t become priests by their own power. Christ lets them borrow His perfect Priesthood, and gives them His power to do the work that they must do. This happens through the sacrament of Ordination.

Because of the gift that God gives to us by giving us priests, we can be baptized. We can be chrismated. We can receive Holy Communion. There are so many things that Christ does through our priest that lead us to God. This is why we pray for our priest and treat him with love and respect.

The lesson closes with a brief look at each of the ranks of ordination. It describes the work of the bishop, priests/presbyters, and deacons. The reader is reminded that the River of Grace flows through all of these men. It is through the work of their hands that Christ grows His Church.

 

Here are a few quotes from the lesson:

***

“God has given to the Church special protectors to guard the River of Grace and keep it from being polluted. They guard the holy teachings of the Church. They also guard the holy things of the Church. Do you know who these guards are? …the bishops and priests of the Church!” (p. 55, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

“Do you remember in the Divine Liturgy—the priest calls down the Holy Spirit on the bread and the wine, and they become something much more than bread, and wine?… something similar happens to make a man a priest. The church calls the Holy Spirit down to make a man something more than he was before. The Holy Spirit makes a change in him, and God’s grace makes him a priest, an icon of Christ, the High Priest.” (p. 57, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

“…because the priest reflects Christ and His Priesthood—we should treat him with great love and respect, even though he is a human being and a sinner. Since he is an icon of Christ, we receive a blessing and kiss his hand when we see him. Because he brings God’s grace to us, we honor him, we pray for him and are thankful for him. We do this because of Christ, who is with the priest in a special way since the time of his ordination. When we respect the priest, we show respect for Christ, for  His Holy Church, and for the Holy Spirit who ordained him.” (pp. 58-59, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

“Through the bishop, priests and deacons, the River of Grace flows abundantly to all those in the Church, bringing refreshment to the hearts of Christians.” (p. 60, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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A Closer Look at “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour: Lessons 4 and 5

This is the third in a series of closer looks at Fr. Michael Shanbour’s book “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” (available here: https://www.wenorthodox.com/product-page/the-good-samaritan-a-children-s-catechism). This beautifully illustrated hardcover book houses an Orthodox Christian catechism that is intended to be read with children. Find our overview of the book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/12/11/gleanings-from-a-book-the-good-samaritan-a-childrens-catechism-by-the-very-reverend-fr-michael-shanbour/. In each post of this series, we will focus on two chapters (called “lessons”) in the book. We will begin with a synopsis of each lesson followed by a handful of quotes found within its pages. We may also occasionally include a few related links offering additional background or information to the parents. It is our hope that these posts will be a useful resource for parents who are sharing the book with their children, as families learn together about the Orthodox Christian Faith.

 

Lesson 4: Jesus Christ

The fourth lesson of “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” begins by reminding the reader that sin has made us spiritually sick, and we are not able to turn back toward God on our own power. We need a strong medicine that can heal us. It goes on to talk about how Jesus, the Good Samaritan became the medicine that we need.

In this lesson, Fr. Michael incorporates objects like an inside-out t-shirt and a sponge with water to help the visual and tactile learners better understand what Christ did in taking on our inside-out humanity and absorbing our sins to remove them and turn our humanity aright once more. The lesson talks about all of the things that Jesus set aright. He healed our broken/sick humanity; He broke the power of death over us; and He also raised us to a new, resurrected life.

The new, resurrected body He had was like Adam and Eve’s had been before they sinned. And He did not leave that body on earth, but took it to heaven with Him! Then He sent us the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, to help us to receive God’s life and light. Christ is the most powerful Medicine for all of us!

 

Here are a few quotes from the lesson:

***

“We needed medicine, not just for our bodies, but for our souls. We needed the light to be brought back to our spiritual eyes… Like the man in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we needed someone to have compassion on us, to stop as we lay on the road wounded and half-dead and bring us back to life.” (p. 34, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

“Jesus made our human nature alive again by joining it to God’s nature, taking all the sickness out. He re-made us by putting on what we’re made of. And now each of us can be re-made by putting Him on. That’s what happens when we are baptized. We put on Jesus Christ and his clean and healthy humanity. ‘As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.’” (p. 36, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

“Jesus has become our Medicine. He remade us by becoming Man, He destroyed the power of sin and death through the cross, and He rose from the dead to take away our sickness and fill us with His life!” (p. 38, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

CHILDRENS CATECHISM - COVER, FRONT copy

Lesson 5: The Church

 

The fifth lesson of “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” begins with a concise review, to remind the reader of what has been discussed thus far in the book. The bulk of the lesson focuses on “Finding the Medicine”, beginning by making a life connection. The lesson invites its readers to remember a time when they were sick and/or injured, and what happened: likely they were taken to a clinic or hospital, which provided them with the needed treatment and/or medicine.

The lesson reminds the reader that the Church is our spiritual hospital. Christ is the Great Physician, and in the Church we find the medicine that our souls need. Our priest(s) are like “spiritual medicine practitioners”. They receive their orders from Christ and then apply the “medicines” that we need to be spiritually healed.

The medicine that the Church offers is God’s life, the Holy Spirit, which is offered to us through the Church. We in the Church call this “God’s grace”. The lesson goes on to cite two examples from the Scriptures of God’s grace pouring into someone and healing them. Then it establishes once more that God’s grace is poured out through the Church, Christ’s Body, for the healing of our souls and bodies.

 

Here are a few quotes from the lesson:

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“Then Christ Jesus rose from the dead, ‘trampling down death by death.’ He swallowed up Death with Life! (1 Cor. 15:54) He beat the devil at his own game! God planned a surprise attack. The devil thought he had a mere man, but instead he found himself face to face with God!” (p. 40, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

“So where do we get the spiritual medicine that the Lord Jesus has for us by His becoming Man, dying, and rising again? It is similar to the doctor and the hospital. Jesus is the Doctor, the Great Physician, and the Church is the Hospital. It is in the Church that we find the medicines for our soul. The medicine is from Christ, who is the Head, but we find it in the Church, His Body.” (pp. 41-42, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

“But how is it that God’s grace is in the Church? Because Jesus is joined to His Church as a head is joined to a body… Does your head go anywhere without your body? I hope not! …Your head is attached to your body. It is one with your body. The same is true with Christ’s body. Christ and the Church are one.” (pp. 43-44, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

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A Handful of New Resources

We have recently come across a handful of new resources that can help Orthodox parents and educators as they instruct the children in their lives. We thank the authors for sharing electronic copies of these resources with us. We are sharing the resources with you in the order in which they came to our attention. We hope that you find them helpful as you instruct our young brothers and sisters in the Faith.

 

Philo and the SuperHolies VBS

https://www.mireillemishriky.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Philo-Commercial.mp4?_=1  

Fans of Mireille Mishriky’s “Philo” books will be delighted to know that she has collaborated with Shereen Marcus (of Bridges to Orthodoxy) and they have created a SuperHolies-themed Vacation Church School program. This five-day program provides its purchasers with videos, crafts and activities, lesson plans including Bible stories, saint stories, and memory verses, and even “parent recap cards” that can further the children’s learning as parents ask additional questions about each day’s experience.

Each VCS session focuses one one or two SuperHolies each day. (If you are not familiar with them, the “SuperHolies” are the fruits of the Spirit). The session begins with a video featuring Philo and his “Super Challenge” of the day. The children are invited to help Philo to use a Fruit (or two) of the Spirit to help him overcome his challenge, and that Fruit, that SuperHoly, is the focus for the entire day’s session. Every session also contains a saint’s story and a passage or story from the Scriptures.

The program is designed to include two small group sessions for the children. In one, they’ll learn about an Orthodox saint who is struggling with a challenge similar to Philo’s. In the other, they’ll focus on a passage from the Scriptures that is also related to that struggle. There are planned activities, discussion suggestions, and even crafts that will support this learning. The goal of the day is to help Philo figure out what to do about his Super Challenge.

The program includes suggestions for each day’s opening and closing large group sessions (including the video of Philo’s Super Challenge of the day); two small group session lesson plans for K-1st, 2nd-3rd, and 4th-5th for each day; extra ideas (including game suggestions, songs, and videos) and the printable Parent Recap card for each of the 5 days.

Find more information here: https://bridgestoorthodoxy.com/collections/pathways

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Divine Liturgy Guide

Gina Govender has developed a Divine Liturgy book that can help children to follow along with key portions of the Liturgy. “The Divine Liturgy: A Guide for Orthodox Children” was illustrated by Althea Botha, and has been endorsed by Archbishop Damaskinos of Johannesburg and Pretoria.

The intent of this book is to provide children with instructions so that they can easily follow along in the Divine Liturgy. At the beginning of the book, a section called “The Meaning of the Divine Liturgy”, talks children through the liturgy and encourages them to look for ways that each part of the liturgy points to the life of Christ. The pages that follow walk the children through the liturgy by including actual portions of the liturgical text illustrated by a colorful watercolor-and-ink picture. These portions of the liturgy are shared in the book: Commencement, Prayers for Peace, the Little Entrance, the Readings, the Great Entrance, Spiritual Prayers, the Creed, the Mystical Supper, the Invocation & Sanctification, Supplication, the Lord’s Prayer, Holy Communion, Prayer of Thanksgiving, and the Dismissal.

The acknowledgements page of the book encourages parents of the readers to bring their children to church, even if they are wiggly and noisy. After all, “The presence of children is a gift to the Church and a reminder that our community is growing. As Christ said, ‘Let the children come to me.’” This book can help to welcome the children and involve them in the liturgy.

Inquire about purchasing the book here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/SAHETI-Pre-Primary-and-Playschool-PTA-154113824686210/shop/ (Notes: the price noted is listed in South African Rands, and at the time of this post, equals slightly less than $15, not including shipping/handling. The book is a fundraiser for upgrades at a Hellenic playschool/pre-primary school in Senderwood, South Africa.)

***

Super Secret TreeHouse Bible Club and the Prophet Micaiah

Author Mireille Mishriky has introduced a brand new series of children’s picture books! “The Super-Secret TreeHouse Bible Club” will take children on an adventure with a group of children who are struggling with the virtues. Along the way, the children in the Super-Secret TreeHouse Bible Club will get to know some of the lesser-known saints from the Bible. The first book, “The Super-Secret TreeHouse Bible Club and the Prophet Micaiah” walks alongside Marina, Theodore, and Marcorios as they learn why it takes courage to be honest, and how God blesses people who tell the truth.

Marina isn’t sure what to do because her friend encouraged her to lie, or she would no longer be her friend. Theo doesn’t know how to LIVE the Bible, as their priest said in his homily. Marco also doesn’t know how they can possibly “…not merely listen to the Word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says”, but he suggests that they begin by praying. And so, they do.

A bird appears as they pray, and it helps them find a story in the scriptures about the prophet Michaiah, who told the truth when hundreds of others were lying. It landed him in jail. But in the end, he was right, and if the kings had listened to him and obeyed his words instead of the ones they wanted to hear, they would have been spared much heartache. Marina makes a secret wish, and the bird helps it to come true: the children get to meet the prophet Michaiah, who appears in their treehouse, and they ask him a few questions.

His wisdom helps Marina know what to do, and the book ends on a positive note as Marina and her friend Sarah come clean on what happened.

This book is available as an ebook, and you will find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Super-Secret-Treehouse-Prophet-Micaiah-ebook/dp/B085TBL5XH/

 

A Closer Look at “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour: Lessons 2 and 3

This is the second in a series of closer looks at Fr. Michael Shanbour’s book “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” (available here: https://www.wenorthodox.com/product-page/the-good-samaritan-a-children-s-catechism). This beautifully illustrated hardcover book houses an Orthodox Christian catechism that is intended to be read with children. Find our overview of the book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/12/11/gleanings-from-a-book-the-good-samaritan-a-childrens-catechism-by-the-very-reverend-fr-michael-shanbour/. In each post of this series, we will focus on two chapters (called “lessons”) in the book. We will begin with a synopsis of each lesson followed by a handful of quotes found within its pages. We may also occasionally include a few related links offering additional background or information to the parents. It is our hope that these posts will be a useful resource for parents who are sharing the book with their children, as families learn together about the Orthodox Christian Faith.

 

Lesson 2: The Fall

 

The second lesson of “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” helps children to learn about the choices that Adam and Eve made and the consequences of those choices. As is characteristic of the book, the lesson is written as a conversation. It uses only words that children can easily understand.

The lesson begins by describing Paradise as a place that was beautiful both inside and out. When God placed Adam and Eve in this beautiful place, they could have lived there with God forever, if they had chosen to do so. They had a lot to learn, since they were newly created. Their bodies were grown up bodies, but they needed to grow spiritually.

God provided all that Adam and Eve needed, and set only one limit: they were not to eat from one tree in the middle of the garden. Just as we are all easily tempted to do the things that we know we are not supposed to do, Adam and Eve fell prey to the serpent’s tempting words when he told Eve that God’s limits on the tree were not quite fair.

The lesson explains how they ate, and everything changed. Their communion with God was broken. They felt cold and naked. They even tried to hide from God. Then it goes on to show how God in His mercy extended the opportunity for Adam and Eve to repent, to own up to what they’d done, so that their relationship could be restored. But they blamed others rather than admitting their own choice.

The lesson tells about how this made God feel very sad and that because of their choice, He had to send them out of Paradise, and eventually they would die. However, it explains that this was not a permanent separation: it is more of a “time out” until God could do something to cure them. That “something” is Christ.

 

Here are a few quotes from the lesson:

***

“God gave them everything they needed. And He wanted them to love Him and to be obedient so they could always know His embrace. But sometimes kids are not obedient. Have you always been obedient? Tell the truth! Did your mom and dad tell you not to touch a hot plate, but you did, and you burned your hand? Did they tell you not to eat so much candy because you would get sick? Did you eat it anyway and end up with a stomach ache? Most of us have done something like that. Adam and Eve did something like that too.” (p. 19, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

“What did Eve do? She listened to the serpent… Eve was tempted with pride. And so, she ate. Then she gave some to her husband Adam. And he ate too. And what happened? They began to feel different inside: sad and lonely and cold. God seemed so far away now. Things changed outside too…” (p. 21, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

“God wanted to give Adam and Eve a chance for Confession. But they didn’t confess their own sin: they confessed the sin of others. In the Church, God has given us the Sacrament of Confession… whose sins do we confess? Only our own, right? We don’t blame others like Adam and Eve did. This is very important to keep us healthy and close to God.” (p. 22, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

Parents and older children may benefit from hearing more about the Fall in this podcast: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/emmaus/three_falls_of_man_and_return_to_paradise_mar_10_2019

***

CHILDRENS CATECHISM - COVER, FRONT copy

Lesson 3: The Sickness of Sin

 

The third lesson of the book focuses on the sickness of sin. It begins with a quick review of the preceding lessons, since they lay the groundwork for this one. It also offers several footnotes which contain additional activities that could be done during the reading of their particular part of the lesson, to enhance the lesson and better demonstrate the point(s) being made.

After the brief review, the lesson goes on to talk about how God has created each person in His image, stamped with His image on our heart. Beginning with Adam and Eve, anytime someone chooses to sin, this icon, the image of God, becomes dark and difficult to see. It is easy for us to forget God when His image in our heart is dirty with sin. We think more of ourselves and what we want. His image in our heart needs to be cleaned and restored. The lesson mentions that only Christ can clean it, and that the reader will learn more about it in a future lesson.

The lesson goes on to teach the reader about their nous, the eye of their soul, which was created to help each of us to see God and His blessings. It tells the reader that when we sin, our nous becomes dark like a window at nighttime: we can not see through it because it is darkened. When God’s light is not in us because of our sin, we can’t see Him clearly and it feels like He is far away (even though He is not).

The lesson explains how Adam tried to replace loving God with things, as he tried to become happy again. All of us do the same, choosing to follow our passions instead of God. It compares passions to magnets and offers a memorable hands-on suggestion of how to demonstrate the lesson using actual magnets. The lesson talks about how everyone has passions, even saints. The saints, however, have learned to turn their passions over and turn to God instead, which makes the passions no longer able to “stick”. (The suggested activity of turning one of the magnets over at this point to show how they repel each other will be an effective way to make this point.)

Before its close, this lesson touches on the struggles we all face to keep our hearts clean, keep our attention on God, and keep our trust in God. Sin fights against all of these. But Christ can provide the medicine that we need to be saved in these struggles, and the forthcoming lessons will help us to learn more.

 

Here are a few quotes from the lesson:

**

“…God did not create Adam and Eve to die… He was sad to see their hearts darkened and sick with sin. For this meant their hearts could no longer see Him and experience His perfect love.

Because we are children of Adam and Eve, we also live with this sickness… How can we become healthy again?” (p. 27, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

“…after Adam sinned he had difficulty seeing the stamp of Jesus in his heart. This means that Adam forgot about God and thought mostly about himself and his own desires. He no longer sensed that God was in him and with him. Do you ever forget about God?” (p. 28, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

“Like a magnet, when our passions get too close to sin they want to stick to them. These passions pull us toward sin. And the more we sin, the stronger the magnetic force becomes. Sometimes it feels like we can’t stop from sinning, but with God’s grace we can.” (p. 30, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

“The saints cleaned their hearts from the dark passions so that the light of God could come in.When the light of God comes into our hearts, we can see what is really important and true. Our spiritual eye—our nous—is filled with light. We find joy and peace. Then we can turn our attention to the love of God and our neighbor.” (p. 31, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

Parents and older children may benefit from listening in as Mother Melania from St. Barbara Orthodox Monastery in Santa Paula, California talks with Kevin Allen about the passions, how they cloud the window of our hearts, and how we can begin the work to be free of their grasp in this podcast: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/illuminedheart/the_passions_how_we_got_into_this_mess_and_how_we_get_out

 

A Closer Look at “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour: Introduction and Lesson 1

This is the first in a series of closer looks at Fr. Michael Shanbour’s book “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” (available here: https://www.wenorthodox.com/product-page/the-good-samaritan-a-children-s-catechism). This beautifully illustrated hardcover book houses an Orthodox Christian catechism that is intended to be read with children. Find our overview of the book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/12/11/gleanings-from-a-book-the-good-samaritan-a-childrens-catechism-by-the-very-reverend-fr-michael-shanbour/. In each post of this series, we will focus on two chapters (called “lessons”) in the book. We will begin with a synopsis of each lesson followed by a handful of quotes found within its pages. We may also occasionally include a few related links offering additional background or information to the parents. It is our hope that these posts will be a useful resource for parents who are sharing the book with their children, as families learn together about the Orthodox Christian Faith.

 

Introduction: the Good Samaritan

 

The very first chapter (after the author’s preface) unpacks for its readers the parable of the Good Samaritan. It opens our eyes to see that the whole purpose of the Church is to help us heal from our sins. The lesson recounts the Good Samaritan’s story in its entirety. Then, piece by piece, it unlocks each significant detail of the parable, showing how that part of the story relates to humankind throughout history, as well as to our own life. These elements help the reader to understand how St. John Chrysostom and other saints have interpreted this parable.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is foundational to the rest of the book. Each of the 13 lessons that follows comes out of that introduction. Each pushes the reader to better understand a particular aspect of the Faith. Throughout the book, the reader will find opportunity to take frequent looks back to the parable of the Good Samaritan and see how that lesson’s theme is reflected in this helpful story.

Here are a few quotes from the introduction to the book:

***

2. The man travels down from Jerusalem to Jericho.

Do you know what it’s like to go from Jerusalem to Jericho? You have to go down, down, down. It’s like a long hike from a high hill to a low valley. So, Jesus is telling us that Adam went from a high place to a much lower place. What is the Lord trying to say to us? He is telling us that Adam sinned.” (p. 4, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

4. The man was left half-dead.

Now the story shows us what sin does to us. Sin makes us sick. It hurts us. It brings darkness and spiritual death into our minds and hearts. God created us to be like Him and to have life, to be well. Sin distances us from God and makes us sick or unhealthy…” (p. 5, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

8. The Samaritan puts the man on his donkey and takes him to the Inn.

The Inn was like a hospital. People went there to find rest, to be cured of their sickness and to be well again. What does the Inn represent in the story? The inn is the Church! The Church is the hospital for sinners—you and me.” (p. 7, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

Parents and older children will benefit from reading more about the Good Samaritan and how this parable relates to the Church and our own life, in this article: http://saintandrewgoc.org/home/2016/1/13/on-healing
***

CHILDRENS CATECHISM - COVER, FRONT copy

 

 

Lesson 1: Paradise

 

The first lesson of the book takes a close look at the beginning of the world, as God created it. He created the whole world and its creatures. Then he created humankind and put them in a special place, a joy-filled place, the beautiful garden of Paradise, called “Eden.”

The lesson describes paradise, citing many church fathers’ descriptions. Fr. Michael adds child-friendly insights along the way. For example, as he describes the grass in Paradise, he suggests, “Perhaps Adam could take a nap by rolling up the grass like it was a soft mattress or blanket.” Throughout the lesson, the descriptions are colorful and easy for children to understand.

The lesson tells how Adam and Eve lived with God so closely. But, even though they lived a life that was so close to Him, they still had a lot to learn so that they could grow to be even closer to God. It exerts that the level of spiritual growth in the context of Paradise is what God intended for humankind: that we would be able to care for His world and grow closer and closer to Him.

The lesson helps its readers to see that Paradise was like the Church. It was heaven on earth. God intended for the whole world to become that way. He wanted all of it to be a place where we could live in closeness to Him.

But He also gave humans the ability to make choices. He wants each of us to choose to love Him. He does not force us to love Him. Adam and Eve made a choice to turn away from Him. Sin is the choice that they made which turned them away from Him.

 

Here are a few quotes from the lesson:

***

“In the garden of Paradise, the air was completely pure and sweet, and breathing made one remember the Lord (kind of like Church incense does)! The weather was always beautiful. In paradise it was never too hot or too cold. There were no tornadoes or hurricanes or thunderstorms that could scare or hurt any living thing. So Adam and Eve did not need a house to live in, or even clothing to protect them from the elements.” (p. 12, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

“Paradise was not just a place outside that Adam and Eve could see and touch; it was also how God lived in their hearts. Paradise was also inside Adam and Eve because God lived in them and spoke to their hearts… God gave them the Tree of Life. This Tree was like Holy Communion, and they could have eaten of it eventually if they had remained in Paradise.” (p. 13, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

“Do you remember in the Divine Liturgy when the priest lifts up his hands and extends an invitation to us? ‘Let us lift up our hearts! Let us give thanks unto the Lord!’ This is an invitation to be like Adam and Eve in Paradise, to do what they failed to do. Do you know that in the Divine Liturgy we experience Paradise for a little while? Do you experience it? (Or do you just feel bored and tired?)” (p. 14, “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” by Fr. Michael Shanbour)

***

Parents may find it helpful to hear this short homily on how Paradise can be re-opened to us: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/prayingintherain/paradise_is_open

***

Gleanings from a Book: “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas

For many of us, it is nearly the end of a dreary winter. Although spring is just around the corner, the wintry series of gloomy house-bound days may be tempting us to despair. And now Great Lent has arrived, bringing with it its own set of challenges and hard (but beautiful) work. This is the perfect time for Nicole Roccas’ journal to become available, for we need the grace and challenge that it offers.

In “A Journal of Thanksgiving”, Nicole has compiled and edited a variety of quotes about giving thanks to God in all things. Instead of simply collecting the quotes into a nice little book for her readers to read, ponder, and likely, forget them, Nicole has upped the ante. Each quote appears at the top of a page marked for a specific day of the year, and is followed by three sets of lined spaces, wherein the reader is invited to record a sentence or two of gratitude for something from their day. The intent is for the reader to daily record their gratitude in this journal over a period of three years, welcoming genuine thanksgiving into their life in the process.

In a brief letter at the beginning of the journal, Nicole sets the stage for the reasoning behind its creation. She reminds the reader that thanksgiving has always been at the heart of Orthodox Christian spirituality, so we should continually be working toward endlessly offering thanks to God.The quotes she has selected for the book encourage giving thanks in the good things and for the beauty around us, always recognizing God’s provision for our lives. They also challenge us to give thanks in the struggles, the hardships, the ugliness in which we find ourselves, all the while recognizing God’s omniscience and wisdom.

The book is set up to follow a calendar year, beginning with January 1st. However, Nicole encourages her readers to just begin immediately, when they receive the book, and continue on from there. If, on any given day, one cannot think of a single thing for which to be grateful, never fear: the book ends with 33 thanksgiving prompts that will help anyone who is struggling in ingratitude.

Readers of all ages who wish to grow in their spiritual life will challenge themselves to embrace life with genuine gratitude that pours forth to God, heedless of their circumstances and comfort level. This book is a small step in that direction. Giving thanks – even just for one thing each day – for three years will begin to grow gratitude in the reader/journal writer’s life, and they will grow closer to becoming the person that they were created to be: a grateful, humble servant of God.

The timing of this book’s release is impeccable. After all, what could be a better time to begin the discipline of growing gratitude in our hearts than during Great Lent? May we all grow more grateful, not just during the lenten season – or even “just” for the three years it will take us to work through this book – but for the rest of our lives.

Find the journal here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/a-journal-of-thanksgiving/

Readers who are journeying through the book are encouraged to share their journey on social media with the hashtag #ThanksWritingAFP

Here are a few of the quotes from the book, to help you begin to think about giving thanks to God:

***

“Just as athletes win crowns by their struggles in the arena, so are Christians brought to perfection by the trial of their temptations, if only we learn to accept what the Lord sends us with patience, with all thanksgiving. All things are ordained by the Lord’s love.” St. Basil the Great, Letter 101 (January 2, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

***

“Nothing is holier than the tongue that in distress gives thanks to God; truly in no respect does it fall short of that of martyrs.” St. John Chrysostom, Homily 8 on Colossians (February 18, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

***

“Life-giving and merciful Trinity, receive my thanksgiving for all Your goodness.” Akathist of Thanksgiving, Kontakion 13 (April 11, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

***

“We shall give thanks to You, O God;

We shall give thanks, and call upon Your name.

I shall describe all Your wonders.” Ps. 74:2,3 (June 25, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

***

“We give thanks unto You, O King invisible, who, by Your measureless power, made all things and, in the greatness of Your mercy, brought all things from nonexistence into being.” The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (August 31, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

***

“Let us increase our thanksgiving—not in words, nor in tongue, but in deeds and works, in mind and in heart. Let us give thanks unto Him with all our souls.” St. John Chrysostom, Homily 19 on Ephesians (October 1, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

***

“Do you eat? Give thanks to God both before and afterwards. Do you sleep? Give thanks to God both before and afterwards. Do all in the Name of the Lord, and all shall be prospered to you.” St. John Chrysostom, Homily 9 on Colossians (December 16, “A Journal of Thanksgiving: Record Three Years of Gratitude in a Sentence a Day” Compiled by Nicole M. Roccas)

***

 

Gleanings from a Book: “A Child’s Guide to Prayer” by Ancient Faith Publishing Illustrated by Tara Pappas

Ancient Faith Publishing has released yet another helpful book in their “Child’s Guide” series*, titled “A Child’s Guide to Prayer”. The simple explanations and prayers in this book are enhanced by Tara Pappas’ beautiful illustrations, and both help the book live up to its name. It will, indeed, be an excellent prayer guide for its readers. And its child-friendly size makes this book easily managed by even the smallest of hands.

The “Child’s Guide to Prayer” is conveniently divided into color-coded sections, making it very easy to identify and locate the various types of prayers by simply looking at the colored bar on each page. Each section contains a few sentences of explanation, followed by several simple prayers. The book is carefully written, using words that children can both understand and pronounce. The book’s sections include: What is Prayer?, Morning Prayers, Evening Prayers, Words of Faith, Prayers During the Day, Prayers for Mealtimes, Prayers for Family and Friends, Prayers of the Saints, Prayers to the Saints, Psalms to Pray, Communion Prayers, Prayers Before and After Confession, and Ways to Pray. The book concludes with several lined pages where children may write their own prayers and/or list the names of family and friends that they are praying for and how/when God answered those prayers.

Scattered throughout the book are Tara Pappas’ delightfully colorful illustrations. Some  of the illustrations feature children, others feature animals, and a few even contain appropriately-placed icons. Every illustration relates to the prayers in the section where it is found. The illustrations offer images from nature (both realistic and imaginative), and they add a brightness to the book, as well as just a touch of whimsy. At the root of every illustration, there’s a sense of deep peace. These illustrations make the reader want to pray, to join in, in order to also be able to experience such peace.

Parents and teachers who desire to help the children in their care to grow closer to God will want to add “A Child’s Guide to Prayer” to their library. While this book could be shared, children will certainly feel more ownership (and more easily able to participate) in a group prayer time if they each have their own copy. The prayers, teachings, and sweet illustrations in this book will engage the reader and lead them into a peaceful place, the place of prayer.

The “Child’s Guide to Prayer” is available here https://store.ancientfaith.com/a-childs-guide-to-prayer/

 

*Also available in the “Child’s Guide” series from Ancient Faith Publishing is the “Child’s Guide to the Divine Liturgy” (available here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/a-childs-guide-to-the-divine-liturgy/) and the “Child’s Guide to Confession” (available here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/a-childs-guide-to-confession/; we wrote about it here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/04/24/gleanings-from-a-book-a-childs-guide-to-confession-by-ancient-faith-publishing-illustrated-by-nicholas-malara/    https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2019/04/26/gleanings-from-a-book-a-childs-guide-to-confession-by-ancient-faith-publishing-illustrated-by-nicholas-malara/)

Here are several “gleanings” from the book. These are chiefly quotes from the notes and little teachings found amidst the prayers:

***

“What is prayer? Is it just closing our eyes and saying words out loud in church, or bowing our heads and crossing ourselves before we eat? Prayer is talking to God and listening while God talks to us… We pray because we want to be with God and know Him better. We pray because He loves us more than we can imagine and we want to love Him back.” (p. 9,  “A Child’s Guide to Prayer” by Ancient Faith Publishing Illustrated by Tara Pappas)

***

“Saying a few prayers from your whole heart is better than saying a bunch of prayers just from your lips.” (p. 13,  “A Child’s Guide to Prayer” by Ancient Faith Publishing Illustrated by Tara Pappas)

***

“Remember, God wants to be in conversation with you. You are special to Him. Asking for His help, even in the small things, will help your relationship with Him to grow. Don’t forget to make the sign of the cross, which is a way of praying with your body!” (p. 35,  “A Child’s Guide to Prayer” by Ancient Faith Publishing Illustrated by Tara Pappas)

***

“God gives us friends and family so that we aren’t alone but live in communion together. Pray for those who are in your life, both during good times and when times get tough.” (p. 51,  “A Child’s Guide to Prayer” by Ancient Faith Publishing Illustrated by Tara Pappas)

***

“The saints in heaven are sitting near Christ, and they can join us in praying. Many people have received healing and had their prayers answered by asking a saint to pray for them.” (p. 75,  “A Child’s Guide to Prayer” by Ancient Faith Publishing Illustrated by Tara Pappas)

***

“Psalms are songs written to praise God. For thousands of years people have been praying the psalms to help them thank God, worship Him, know Him better, and ask for His help. Here are a few psalms for you to pray—in the Bible there are 151 psalms to choose from!” (p. 79,  “A Child’s Guide to Prayer” by Ancient Faith Publishing Illustrated by Tara Pappas)

***

“Divine Liturgy is a time of prayer from the moment we enter the church until we leave. Try your hardest to sing, worship, and pray from your heart throughout the liturgy.” (p. 97,  “A Child’s Guide to Prayer” by Ancient Faith Publishing Illustrated by Tara Pappas)

***

‘Did you know that a priest cannot perform a liturgy without other people praying with him? A Divine Liturgy needs both people and a priest, because when we’re having communion, God wants the community to pray together. It’s important that we learn to pray alone, but there is special power when a community of Christians prays together… your prayer matters!” (p. 108,  “A Child’s Guide to Prayer” by Ancient Faith Publishing Illustrated by Tara Pappas)

***

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood

Have you ever wondered what it was like to be an Orthodox Christian in the plains of the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s? “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” offers a glimpse of the life of this immigrant who lived a faithful Orthodox Christian life in the American plains before there were churches available in the region. It follows Fr. Nicola through his immigration, his adjustment to life on the plains, his ordination, his intense years of service as a missionary priest, all the way to his departing from this life. American Orthodox Christians – especially those in the Antiochian Archdiocese – will do well to read this book, to expand their knowledge of the history of Orthodox Christianity in the United States.

Readers who have marveled at the experiences of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books will see some parallels in “Apostle to the Plains.” The Yanneys also lived in a sod house for a period of time while they were homesteading. Although the Ingalls family’s experiences preceded the Yanneys’ by some 20 years, and happened largely in different states, both families suffered illnesses and loss. There were times when each family struggled to attend school or church (because there was none, or it was far away). And despite their hard times, both families endeavored to do what was right and persevered with dogged determination.

A large portion of “Apostle to the Plains” is dedicated to recounting the missionary journeys and busy life of Fr. Nicola’s years as a traveling priest, and at points these chapters feel a bit overwhelming. Even with today’s technology and travel infrastructure, his months of travel and the few weeks at home in between trips would exhaust anyone. But when the reader remembers that his travels happened more than a century ago, with much slower communication and more tedious means of transportation, what he accomplished is truly astounding. Fr. Nicola and his family clearly loved God and took their calling to be a priest (and the priest’s family) very seriously, and they embraced the reality of what that entailed.

Fr. Nicola’s life was far from easy: he left his home in Lebanon at age 19, with his brand-new bride (whom he barely knew) shortly after their wedding and moved to far away Nebraska, where they had to adjust to new language and culture, different weather, and near isolation from family; and where there was no Orthodox Church. The book goes on to share their trials in homesteading, the joys of births and occasional clergy visits, the sorrows of losses and deaths in the family. When Fr. Nicola was ordained to the priesthood, he not only was in charge of the parish in their hometown of Kearney Nebraska, but he was also charged with being the missionary priest who visited Orthodox Christians all over the American plains.

A large section of the book follows Fr. Nicola’s travels. When he traveled, Fr. would hear people’s confessions, commune them, baptize those in need of baptism, marry young couples, and do all the priestly things for the Orthodox Christians who were scattered about the many parts of the plains of the United States. He always tried to be home again with his boys for Christmas and for Pascha (and often for all of Great Lent), but his travels kept him away from them and his home parish for months at a time every year. It was not an easy life for him or for his family, nor did it provide enough financial income.

Fr. Nicola was generous to a fault. Throughout his life, he raised money to share with others back home in Lebanon, and to fund local causes. He and the family generously hosted guests for Sunday luncheons. He traveled extensively, at great cost to himself and his family – and his being away from home made him unable to work and thus make additional income. So he and the family had very little financially. In fact, they had so little that even with re-mortgaging their home multiple times, he was unable to pay $140 in damages from a lawsuit that had been brought against him and his parish! Fr. Nicola gave and gave and gave of both his money and his time, and had very little on earth to show for his generosity.

Readers may be surprised to find that this book offers a glimpse into the life of St. Raphael of Brooklyn as well. The saintly bishop ordained Fr. Nicola, and Fr. Nicola was under his jurisdiction for the rest of Bishop Raphael’s life. Fr. Nicola supported, honored, and admired Bishop Raphael and was justifiably sad when he departed this life. The saint’s passing not only removed him from his position overseeing the Syrian Orthodox churches in America, it also brought great division to those churches. “Apostle to the Plains” explains this division in a way that helps modern American Orthodox Christians to learn more about some of the struggles in the history of our Church.

Fr. Nicola continued to care for his flock right up to the very end of his life. He visited and cared for his Spanish-flu-suffering parishioners in his hometown of Kearney just hours before his collapse and death from that same illness. His sudden passing was a shock to his parishioners, the entire Kearney community, and the Orthodox Christians across the plains whom he had served so diligently.

The Afterword of the book, titled “The Legacy of Father Nicola” is a powerful ending, as it helps the reader to ponder how well the servant of God Nicola Yanney ran his race. It encourages the reader to look beyond Fr. Nicola (and the entire Yanney family)’s struggles, to see the victories, and especially to note his faithfulness. Reading this after having read the book’s account of his life, the reader cannot help but be encouraged in their own life to “know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings… [that they] may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (from Phil. 3:10-11)

May Fr. Nicola Yanney’s memory be eternal!

You can purchase “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” as a paperback or an ebook here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/apostle-to-the-plains-the-life-of-father-nicola-yanney/

Find additional information about Fr. Nicola Yanney, including interviews, videos, and slide shows related to his life and his gifts to the Antiochian Orthodox Church in America; a map of the states that he served; and more at St. George Orthodox Christian Church (the parish that he helped to found in Kearney, Nebraska)’s website: https://www.saintgeorgekearney.com/reverend_nicola_yanney

Here are some gleanings from the book:

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“He would soon be married, and he wanted Martha and their children to live in safety and peace… In America, he could make a new home not only for himself and Martha but also for his brothers. If they all worked together, Nicola could send enough money to make sure that their father would live the rest of his days in comfort, cared for by loved ones who would remain in their village. To do this, however, Nicola himself would have to leave home.” (p. 23,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“While Martha continued to refurbish the [sod] house, Nicola turned his attention to the rest of the homestead. He only had a few months to prepare. Both he and Martha had experienced light snowfalls in the foothills of Koura, but nothing had prepared them for winter on the open plains… In the worst weather, the family would be beyond the reach of help for days and sometimes weeks at a time. Stables and pens had to be built for their animals and more supplies had to be brought from town and stored for the winter in case the roads became impassable.” (p. 51,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“Even without a church of their own, the Syrians celebrated Saint Simeon’s feast day together as they had back in Fi’eh, as well as Christmas, Pascha, and other holy days. Nicola especially desired to help the newcomers, knowing how difficult it was to keep his Orthodox faith in the foreign land, especially without a church or a priest. Though their gatherings were filled with folk songs, dancing, and food, Nicola always remembered to offer prayers and lead his friends in singing hymns, knowing that it was their faith that bound the small community together more than anything else.” (pp. 58-59,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“The kindly priest was… interested to hear of Nicola’s education at the monastery school. One of the reasons for his cross-country tour was to find pious men who might be ordained to serve the scattered Orthodox Syrians. Hearing this, the Syrians suggested that Father Raphael meet the Yanneys… At nine o’clock in the evening, fifteen of the Yanneys’ friends piled into four wagons to accompany Father Raphael on the eighteen-mile trip to the homestead… As they drew near the farm, their singing and shouting grew louder. Several of the men drew out their pistols and fired shots into the air to wake their unsuspecting friends. The Yanneys came running out of their small home, astonished by what was happening, and fell at Father Raphael’s feet. The priest greeted them warmly.” (pp. 72-73,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“With no other Syrian Orthodox priest living within a thousand miles of Kearney, Father Nicola had to serve his daughter’s funeral… At the conclusion of the funeral, Father Nicola placed his priestly stole on Anna’s head and said the prayer of absolution. He had arrived too late to hear her confession or to give her Holy communion.” (p. 146,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“‘My dear Elias, may you be pleasing to God. Be the best version of yourself. Avoid crude and offensive talk. Do not joke coarsely or easily give your heart to others. Be conscientious of your health before anything else… I ask God’s special blessings on you, that you take care of your brothers and your fellow countrymen. Make me proud. Keep me posted about yourself and write me often so that I always know you are fine. I kiss your cheeks thousands and millions of times…’” ~ from a letter Fr. Nicola wrote to his son Elias (pp. 183,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“Though he had been tending to his parishioners only hours earlier, Father Nicola was confined to bed—unable to rise, his strength gone. By late that night, he knew that he was dying and had little time left. Motioning weakly, he beckoned his sons to his side. He had left them on their own so many times, and now he was leaving them once more. Calling Elias, John, and Moses close, Father Nicola said goodbye as he struggled for breath. As they leaned over their father, he gave them a final word by which he himself had tried to live, whispering, ‘Keep your hands and your heart clean.’”(p. 247,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“The legacy of Father Nicola Yanney continues to this day… In him we see a worthy model of the Christian life—one who was faithful in adversity, steadfast in suffering, zealous in evangelism, and selfless in serving others. Through the daily sacrifice of his priesthood, Father Nicola laid down his life for his friends in imitation of his Master.” (pp. 266-267, “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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