Tag Archives: Encouragement

On Choosing to Live a Life of Joy

“Do what makes you happy” is a common thought in today’s world. Everyone wants to feel happy, to have that positive emotion in our lives. Because of this, we try all sorts of things in pursuit of the “happiness” we desire. Sometimes we succeed – at least for a little – and feel happy. But we learn quickly that happiness is temporal – a fleeting positive feeling. It is soon lost.

Joy, however, God’s joy, is eternal. It is a deep-set “nothing can shake this inner peace” reality. What we all are truly seeking is not happiness: rather, we are seeking joy. We long for the deep, inner joy that comes only from God which is experienced by walking in His ways. In Nehemiah 8:10 we read, “…the joy of the Lord is your strength.” If joy is our strength, we can work as hard as we want to try to be happy: but in reality, it is joy that will strengthen us. So instead of doing what makes us happy, we need to do what makes us joyful.

The scriptures, the saints, and Orthodox theologians have much to say about joy. Here is a taste:

“Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me with Your guiding Spirit.” (Ps. 50:14)

“These things I have spoken to you that my joy remain in you and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11)

“…You now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” (John 16:22) Find more scriptures referring to joy here: http://yourvibrantfamily.com/bible-verses-joy/#_a5y_p=4906869

“Joy is not one of the components of Christianity, it is the tonality…that penetrates everything.” ~ Alexander Schmemann

“You and I were created for joy, and if we miss it, we miss one of the reasons for our existence. In fact, the reason Jesus lived and died was to restore the joy we had lost.” ~ Fr. Anthony Coniaris, Holy Joy: the Heartbeat of Faith, p. 1

“In the beginning, there are a great many struggles and a good deal of suffering for those who are advancing  toward God. Afterward, however, there is ineffable joy. It is like those who wish to light a fire; at first, the smoke chokes them, and they cry. Yet by this means, they obtain what they seek, as it is said, ‘Our God is a consuming fire!’ (Heb. 12:24) So we, too, must kindle the divine fire in ourselves through tears and hard work.” ~ Amma Syncletica

St. Nektarios once wrote to Abbess Xenia: “Realize that your cheerfulness gladdens the faces of the Sisters and renders the Convent a paradise. On the other hand, your depression and sullenness are transmitted to the other Sisters, and joyfulness is banished from that paradise. Learn, therefore that the joy and cheerfulness of the Sisters depend upon you, and it is your duty to preserve these in their hearts. Do this even at times by forcing yourself. I counsel you not to surrender yourself to sorrowful fantasies, because this greatly depresses the hearts of the Sisters. Your reward will be great if you become to them a cause for cheerfulness. I give you this advice because I myself have it as a principle. When you gladden the heart of your neighbor… you may be sure that you please God much more than when you occupy yourself with extreme forms of askesis (i.e. prostrations, prolonged prayer, and fasting).”

An elderly saint of the church once counseled a young priest who sought his advice on how to help a young mother in his parish. “Tell her God forgives her… Tell her He forgives her for being lonely and bored, for not being full of joy with a house full of children. That’s what sin really is, you know: not being full of joy.”

Fr. Anthony Coniaris tells the story of a 70- year-old Romanian Orthodox priest in his book Holy Joy: the Heartbeat of Faith (Light and Life Publishing, 2003). This priest had been thrown into prison by Communists in the Soviet Era. His son died in jail, his daughter was sentenced to 20 years, his sons-in-law were also jailed, and his grandchildren had no food and had to eat garbage. Yet, in spite of this, the priest greeted everyone with the words, “Always rejoice!”
“One day, he was asked, ‘Father how can you always say rejoice—you who passed through such terrible tragedy?’

“He replied, ‘Rejoicing is very easy. If we fulfill at least one word from the Bible, it is written ‘rejoice with all those who rejoice!’ Now if one rejoices with all those who rejoice, he always has plenty of motivation for rejoicing. I sit in jail, and I rejoice that so many are free. I can’t go to church, but I rejoice with all those who can go to church. I can’t take Holy Communion, but I rejoice for all those who an. I can’t read the Bible or any other holy book, but I rejoice for those who do. I can’t see flowers, we never saw a tree or a flower during those years. We were under the earth, in a subterranean prison. We never saw the sun, the moon, the stars. Many times we forgot that these things existed. We never saw a color, only the gray walls of the cell and our gray uniforms. But we knew that such a world existed, a world with multi-colored butterflies and with rainbows, but I can rejoice for those who see the rainbows and who see the multi-colored butterflies. In prison, the smell was horrible… Others have the perfume of flowers around them, and girls wearing perfume. And others have pictures, and others have their families of children around them. I cannot see my children but others can. And he who can rejoice with all those who rejoice can always rejoice. I can always be glad.’” (pp. 67-69)

“A choir director once asked his choir after they sang a jubilant Easter hymn, ‘Are you happy?’

‘Yes!’ they said.

Then he said, ‘I suggest you notify your faces!’

“My face, your face, the face of every Christian should be notified to reflect the joy of forgiveness; the joy of repentance; the joy of the good news of Jesus; the joy of the resurrection; the joy of God’s steadfast love; the joy of the Kingdom; the joy of eternal life with God.

“How can this happen? It can happen through prayer. If there is any power that can transform our face, it is the power of prayer.” ~ Fr. Anthony Coniaris, Holy Joy: the Heartbeat of Faith, p. 113

Creating an environment of joy in your household:

“You cannot command yourself to be joyful, but you can choose where to focus. You can choose to focus on the bad things in your life. And if you do, you will be gloomy and depressed. But if you choose to focus on the Lord, you’re going to rejoice with God’s kind of joy, regardless of what is bad in your life. So, you can’t get up in the morning and command yourself, ‘I think I’ll choose to be joyful today.’ But you can say this, ‘I choose to focus on the Lord today, on how great He is, on how much He loves me, on what wonderful things he has done for me.’ And when you deliberately choose to focus on the Lord, you’ll find that you will always have a great reason to be joyful.” ~ Fr. Anthony Coniaris, Holy Joy: the Heartbeat of Faith, pp. 59-60

Look for (longlasting, solid) joy, not (fleeting) happiness, as described  in this podcast: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/musingonmission/joy

 

After Orthodox Christian Summer Camp is Over

An Orthodox Christian summer camp experience is a life-changing opportunity for our children. If you have not yet sent your child(ren) to an Orthodox camp, find a way to do so next summer. Orthodox Christian camps offer our children a taste of living in heaven on earth. What more do we want for our children than for them to successfully live their faith and surround themselves with friends who do the same?

What exactly is it that makes Orthodox Christian camp so wonderful? First and foremost, although it seems obvious, an Orthodox Christian Camp is so wonderful because it is ORTHODOX. Camp may be the only place besides church where our children are surrounded by other kids who are also Orthodox Christians. In this era where some Christians’ very beliefs are being swayed by whatever is currently popular in the culture, it is imperative that our children have friends who are also remaining steadfast in their Orthodox faith. Camp offers our children a safe and fun environment in which to meet these friends, worship together, and practice living out their faith each day of camp. It is a beautiful, heavenly experience.

And then all too soon, camp is over and our children need to leave there and come back home. Home to where everything is the same, despite the change they have undergone inside. Home to chores, to squabbles, to “real” life. It is not always heavenly, and our children, besides missing their camp friends, are also missing the peace-filled, Christ-centered atmosphere of camp. How can we help them to successfully make the transition home again? Better yet, what can we do to improve ourselves and our home so that the learning and growth can continue rather than stagnating until the next camp experience?

We want what is best for our children, which is why we send them to camp in the first place. So it is important that we not just write camp off as “a great chance for our kids to be in an Orthodox setting for a time.” Rather, we need to talk with our children about their experience after the fact. And together we need to make a plan for maintaining as much of the growth that they’ve experienced as is possible, and even growing it further, throughout the year.

The purpose of this blog is to offer some ideas of ways to do so. It is our hope that these ideas will help all of us. We also hope that you will share your own suggestions and ideas as comments below! My son reminded me that every camper is touched at camp in his/her own unique way, so there is no true “formula for after-camp success.” But here are a few ideas that can help to that end:

An excellent place to begin is to listen to our children’s stories from camp and ask questions about their experience, their learning, and their growth. Once we get a good sense of what our children have experienced, we can begin to get an idea of how to best support them in the days ahead. It is important that we ask them for their ideas of how to continue that learning and growth. They will be able to help us to think of ways to incorporate that learning into our family life.

It is important that we do everything that we can to encourage friendships that our children have made while at camp. We need to provide stamps, allow phone calls or skype/facetime chats, encourage emailing, etc. After all, God has provided our children with these fellow Orthodox friends, and we need to make it possible for them to maintain these friendships. Mind you, they will likely pick up right where they left off when they get back to camp again, but maybe they don’t really have to “let off,” if we afford them the opportunity to stay in touch throughout the year.

If possible, we can visit other parishes where camp friends attend. We can also visit a parish where one of the camp priests is the priest. What a joy to watch our children interact with these friends and spiritual leaders outside of the camp context! It is well worth the effort.

One friend said that sometimes her sons came home from camp missing all of the services and wishing for more. She suggested that we can help our children to adjust after camp by taking them to additional services such as vespers or matins. Along the same lines, we can go through our family calendar and block in all of the services that happen throughout the church year, prioritizing them in the family schedule and attending as many as we possibly can.

One of my friend’s sons suggested that one thing that has been helpful to him (both as a camper and a camp counselor) to stay strong in his faith after camp is to establish and maintain a prayer rule. My own son also suggested that it helps him to set up a prayer routine during the day. When children are younger, we can do this together as a family. As they age, children arrive at the point of being able to take over this responsibility for themselves. We can allow them opportunities to help with family prayers.

Correspondingly, we should provide anything that our children may need to set up a quiet place of prayer in their own room. We can purchase icons for them to establish their own prayer corner. We can provide them with prayer books, prayer bracelets, perhaps even candles. We must also allow our children some time in their schedule to be prayerful and quiet each day.

It is important that we help our children to gain access to Orthodox Christian books, blogs, vlogs, podcasts, etc. that can continue to stretch their faith. As we listen to their “after camp” talking, we will hear what they’ve been learning and perhaps a theme or a book that they began studying at camp. We can use these ideas as cues to know what to provide for them, and help to find/provide resources that will continue their learning.

We can send our children back to camp throughout the year, if the camp offers additional programming. The camp that my children attend offers a winter camp over a long weekend in the middle of winter. They also offer family camp for whole families to attend together during Memorial Day weekend. These “mini-camps” can be just what our children need to help them on their journey. (The anticipation of a weekend at camp during the school year, along with revisiting memories of the weekend after it is over, is well worth the extra effort it takes to get the children to camp on that weekend!)

We can also invite some of the camp staff to visit our parish at some point during the year. While they are there, they can offer a taste of what it’s like to go to camp within the familiar setting of our home parish. This is especially helpful to families who have not yet sent their children to camp because of the time commitment or the uncertainty of whether or not their children will like the camp experience. But a camp-at-our-parish visit is also helpful and encouraging to the children in the parish who have already attended camp, since it reminds them of what they have learned/gained at camp, and acts as a “booster” to help them continue growing in that direction.

All of these opportunities allow our children a chance to continue to walk in the great blessing that they receive at camp. As we pursue these and other opportunities for continued growth in their lives throughout the year, we will help our children not to “lose ground” on their spiritual journey. We will also likely be challenged to be better people ourselves, and to grow in our own faith along the way.
Author’s note: many thanks to my family and friends, all camp veterans and enthusiasts, for sharing their input as I prepared this blog. Their insights were heartfelt, and their ideas are invaluable. Some of them are friends that I met at – of all places – church camp!

The following links can help with the adjustment back home after camp. What other ideas or suggestions do you have? Please share them with the community!

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Find an Orthodox Christian camp near you here: http://orthodoxcamps.org/directory

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“Orthodox Summer Camp was a changing factor in my life story.” ~ Presvytera Vassi Makris Haros, in http://myocn.net/whats-your-summer-camp-super-power/

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“…Camp offers a simple lifestyle where the focus is living in community as Christian brothers and sisters. There is only one option for meals, church services are offered twice daily, and eight to ten campers live together in one cabin, sharing a bathroom. Yet it is a haven of joy for our young people.” ~ Khalil Samara, from http://www.antiochian.org/content/works-order-action-learning-christian-living-through-orthodox-camping-experience

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“Eternal salvation is the goal of our earthly life. This goal requires our constant striving to live as Christians—a task, in any age which is difficult to accomplish. The influences of our contemporary world with its atheistic, humanistic and secular approach to all aspects of human life has made it extremely hard to live as a true Christian. The parish church and the home are the only bastions where God can be praised, glorified and entreated. These are the only places where Christianity can be taught and where one can gain the courage to begin living a Christian life.” ~ from “Marriage and the Christian Home” by Fr. Michael B. Henning, http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/xc_home.aspx

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Prepare for listening to your teen’s camp experiences with these helpful hints: http://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/teens/tips-for-parenting-teens/tools-for-listening-to-your-teen

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Listening to this podcast from the Antiochian Village Camp can be one way to help our children stay in tune with the spiritual side of their life which they nurtured at summer camp: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/avillage

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Listen to this interview with Fr. Philip Rogers, director at Camp St. Thekla in South Carolina, on CAMP (Christ Awakens My Personhood): http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/goforth/camp_st._thekla_2015

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Listen to Elissa Bjeletich’s ponderings on her experience with Camp St Sava in Jackson, CA: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/raisingsaints/camp_st._sava_talking_about_miracles_and_the_butterfly_circus

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Find an audio snapshot of camp life from Camp St. Raphael here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/orthodixie/gotta_go_to_camp_now

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Encouragement for Orthodox Christian Fathers

There are many definitions of the word “father.” Here are a few of them:

“Father:

b) A male whose impregnation of a female results in the birth of a child. c) A man who adopts a child. d) A man who raises a child.

…A male ancestor: He has died and now sleeps with his fathers.

 a) A man who creates, originates, or founds something: Chaucer is considered the father of English poetry. b) A man who serves or is thought of as a protector: beloved as the father of the nation.

Father-Christianity

a) God. b)The first person of the Christian Trinity.

One of the leading men, as of a city: the town fathers.

Abbr.- Fr.

 a) A priest or clergyman in the Roman Catholic or Anglican churches. b) Used as a title and form of address with or without the clergyman’s name.”

From http://www.thefreedictionary.com/fathering.

It is our hope that the Orthodox Christian fathers in our community are living examples of many of the definitions above. An Orthodox Christian father needs to move beyond the mere biological portion of fatherhood to being the man who raises his child(ren), founds the little Church in his home, protects all therein, acts as Our Father (God) would act towards his child(ren), leads the family, and takes seriously the role of priest in his own home.

To encourage the fathers in our community, this week’s blog post focuses on Orthodox Christian fathering. Each link will offer thought-provoking ideas and encouragement for the fathers among us. May God bless all of you, fathers, and grant you many years, as you raise your children in the Holy Orthodox Church!

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The Spiritual Aspects Of Fatherhood

by Al Rossi, Ph.D.

A conference participant once asked the speaker, “What is the best way for a father to love his children?” The speaker replied, “The best way for a father to love his children is to love their mother.” I reflect often upon that superbly accurate statement. And I think the reverse is equally true: the best way a mother can love her children is to love their father.

More than anything else in the world, children need a loving family and parents who support each other, even if the parents are apart through separation or divorce.

Christ challenges us to love one another, and that challenge becomes even more compelling within our own families. Even in the best of families, there is broken-ness. And that is why the man’s call to fatherhood is so important. We fathers are called to show our families strong, manly love and forgiveness, virtues modeled powerfully in the father of the prodigal son (Luke 11:32).

This father is stable, loving, and generous. In his fairness, he avoids violating the freedom of either of his sons. When the prodigal demands his inheritance and decides to leave, the father does not attempt to withhold the money. He does not pressure the son to stay by trying to make him feel guilty. And the father is wise enough not to send care packages to relieve the son’s distress. The father allows both of his adult sons to make their own mistakes and to learn from their failures, an appropriate form of discipline for older adolescents and young adults.

The prodigal’s father demonstrates manly leadership by taking loving initiatives, and he takes many such initiatives. He maintains a thriving business to provide the generous inheritance. He creates and supports a loving family for the prodigal to run from and for the older son to remain with. And there was his last generous, joyful initiative as he runs out to embrace the returning son, kiss him, and put on him the best robe, ring, and shoes. He celebrates the return of his son with a feast. And in a scene all of us fathers can recognize, he opens up the conversation with the sulking older son.

The father takes the initiative in bringing about forgiveness and reconciliation in the whole family. He is a model for us in responding to our call to follow the Spirit of Jesus in taking many initiatives in our families, especially that of boundless forgiveness for our children.

When a father takes responsibility for his own spiritual life, for the way he prays, goes to church, and practices virtue in the family, he gives good example. Then his leadership in the family is authentic, based on his own solid relationship with God, and he is less likely to be concerned about any resistance his children may give him. He can lead family prayer. When I suggest that we stand in the living room and pray before a trip or that we pray in a restaurant, I often feel an initial resistance in my children. But quiet cooperation and peacefulness soon follow. Sometimes the children will even tell me that they prayed in a restaurant when I wasn’t there.

At times the father’s role of leading the family to great forgiveness and prayerfulness is an unpopular one. But as a man grows in his own spiritual life, he becomes more sturdy and willing to accept responsibility. Although all this is impossible for us fathers to do alone, God can do all things. God can even bestow the awesome spiritual power of fatherhood upon us.

Dr. Albert Rossi is a Professor of Psychology at Pace University, Pleasantville, NY and has a private practice in family counseling. Reprinted with permission from Resource Handbook, Vol. II, 95.1, Department of Lay Ministry, Orthodox Church in America.

from http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/forfolks/spirfrhd.htm

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Dad Time

You feel good when your kids treat you like a king on Father’s Day. But do you treat your kids like kings and queens by spending time with them the other 364 days of the year?

Paul Lewis, editor of Dads Only, squeezes time out of his schedule with these creative encounter ideas:

Body, arm, or even thumb wrestle your child.

Help your child with a chore.

Talk about the values behind a TV program or commercial you’ve just watched.

Write a thank-you not of appreciation and encouragement to another significant adult in your child’s life, such as a Church School teacher, coach, or scout leader.

Give your child a back or foot rub.

“Kidnap” your child from school and have lunch together.

Together, fix and eat a bowl of popcorn.

Together, read aloud a chapter or psalm in the Bible.

Tell your child about five personal habits or traits you appreciate and admire in him/her.

Pray with your child about any problem.

Reprinted from Children’s Ministry Magazine. found at http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/forfolks/dadtime.htm, used by permission.

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Smart Dads

Connect with your kids all year long-not just on Father’s Day. Paul Lewis, author of The Five Key Habits of Smart Dads ($15.99, Zondervan Publishing House), gives these tips:

Talk at bedtime. Jot down conversation-starters in a notebook. For example, ask your kids about a fear they felt today, their latest dreams, or what they’ll be like when they’re older. Note and date your children’s answers.

Take a “fun” poll. Ask: What’s the most fun we’ve had as a family in the past month? in the past year? ever? Have kids tell why and put a date on the calendar to do the events again.

Keep kids talking. Make a 20-minute recording of kids talking about topics such as weekend activities, the day at school, pets, hobbies, friends, and latest fads. Send a copy to grandparents and archive the original.

Get kids’ advice. Spark family dialogue by reading “Dear Abby” letters and debating the advice. Have family members suggest solutions. They may even be better than Abby’s advice!

Reprinted from For Parents Only, May/June 1995 (Children’s Ministry).

From http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/forfolks/smartdad.htm. Used by permission.

The following are links to other excellent resources for Orthodox Christian fathers. May they challenge each of their readers to be a more godly father!

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“In a world that values wealth and fame, the Christian father is called to remember that no matter what other accomplishments he has in his career or his life, the greatest influence he will have on the world will be as a father in how he shapes the souls of his children.” Find this quote in the context of an excellent article on fatherhood, in Praxis, written by Dr. Philip Mamalakis, from the Praxis archives, Winter 2008, “The Church at Home,” pp. 12-14. Download it here: http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/praxis/praxisarchive

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Fr. Joseph Honeycutt shares a few things he learned in his almost 9 years as a stay-at-home parent in this podcast. Be sure to listen to the end to hear the excellent advice he received from his mother-in-law, and also from his bishop, when his first child was born: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/orthodixie/father_mom

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Dads, whether or not you know it, you are pastoring a domestic church! Read Dr. Albert Rossi’s encouraging and helpful article on the subject here: http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/forfolks/pastor.htm

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“I believe being a father means creating a world… I draw on a communion of artists and saints to shape our children’s imaginations, hearts, and minds with the wonder of God. My calling as a father is to create space for myself and my family to discover the wonder of God. I believe I’m called to both model and create an environment that encourages curiosity about God and his world. For where there is curiosity, there will be discovery. And where discovery of God’s beauty happens in its many and varied forms, there will be wonder and joy. And that joy–created, given, and shared–is what fatherhood in the Kingdom of God is all about.” http://www.knoxpriest.com/fatherhood-means-creating-world/ (The article is not written by an Orthodox father, but is still well worth the read!)

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Dads, if God has blessed you with children, there are things He wants your children to learn from you (and vice versa)! After all, we are placed in families for our salvation. Here are a few (not written by Orthodox dads, but still worthy of consideration) suggestions of what your children should learn from you:

8 basics every dad should teach his sons: http://matthewljacobson.com/2013/09/30/future-men-8-basics-every-dad-should-teach-his-son/

12 things daughters need their parents to say to them: http://emilypfreeman.com/12-things-your-daughter-needs-you-to-say/

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God is our Perfect Father, and no earthly dad can measure up to His infinite goodness. But dads who love God can learn much from Him, and imitate Him to the best of their ability! Here are ideas of 3 characteristics of a Godly father: http://www.imperfecthomemaker.com/2014/06/3-characteristics-godly-father.html#_a5y_p=1847102

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On What is Truly Important

Parents nowadays are pulled in so many different directions. We want to provide well for our children, to work hard and have resources to meet their needs with extra left over so we can provide for some of their (and our!) wants, as well. It is easy to begin living a lifestyle that looks much like that of our non-Orthodox counterparts, unknowingly disillusioned by the culture in which we live. Activities, busyness, money, things: all are very important to current culture. It is easy for us to be sucked into believing that these things are necessary, that they are very important, and that pursuing them is how we should be spending our lives.

But we are Orthodox Christians. We are to be set apart from the world and living our life for Christ. So, what is truly important? On what should we be spending our time and our resources? St. Anthony the Great, considered by many to be the father of Christian monasticism, had the following to say about what is truly important in life. Although he lived on earth in the third century, his words apply just as much to us, today:

“Why do we not voluntarily abandon what must be destroyed when this life comes to an end, so that we might gain the kingdom of Heaven? Let Christians care for nothing that they cannot take away with them. We ought rather to seek after that which will lead us to Heaven; namely wisdom, chastity, justice, virtue, an ever watchful mind, care for the poor, firm faith in Christ, a mind that can control anger, hospitality. Striving after these things, we shall prepare for ourselves a dwelling in the land of the peaceful, as it says in the Gospel.” – St. Athanasius, Life of St. Anthony, 17

If we were to truly take St. Anthony’s words to heart, what would that look like? Voluntarily abandoning “what must be destroyed at the end of this life” would mean making a deliberate choice to let go of anything material, to relinquish things’ control over our time, our focus, even our desires. “Caring for nothing that [we] cannot take away with [us]” could mean not only not taking the time to nurture/acquire things, but also not even to have a desire for them. How often we hear “I don’t care about ___!” from our children? If we choose to truly live Christian lives, we should be able to say the same about all earthly/material things.

Releasing ourselves from the grip of earthly stuff opens our time, our hearts, even our very thoughts to the things of God. But don’t worry, St. Anthony immediately offers ways in which to fill the “gap” that worldly concerns take up! “We ought rather to seek after that which will lead us to Heaven…” This declaration is thorough in and of itself, but he goes on with specifics: “wisdom, chastity, justice, virtue, an ever watchful mind, care for the poor, firm faith in Christ, a mind that can control anger, hospitality.” Any one of those can take a lifetime to truly acquire. Aspiring to all of them together will easily fill whatever time we may have previously been pouring into the acquisition of material things!

So what is truly important? “Striving after these things” (wisdom, chastity, justice, virtue, an ever watchful mind, care for the poor, firm faith in Christ, a mind that can control anger, and hospitality) which lead us to heaven is what we should both care about and do. This is the lifestyle that we should be living. This is how we ought to spend our lives. Pursuing these things is how we can truly “prepare for ourselves a dwelling in the land of the peaceful, as it says in the Gospel.”

Thank you, St. Anthony, for your timeless wisdom. Please intercede for our salvation!

Read about the life of St. Anthony, as well as more of his wisdom (at the end of this page): http://stanthonylc.org/about/who-is-saint-anthony/. Find information on his feast day, as well as his troparion and kontakion here: http://orthodoxsanantonio.org/lifeofstanthony.html.

Read St. Athanasius’ book The Life of St. Anthony online here:  http://www.orthodoxebooks.org/node/213

The following quotes and readings are for each of the specific pursuits that St. Anthony encourages us to work towards.

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Find a quote from St. John Chrysostom on wisdom, here: http://charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.blogspot.com/2013/10/teach-them-to-love-true-wisdom.html

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Read what St. Nicholas says about chastity here: http://orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2013/12/05/st-nicholas-of-myra-children-i-beseech-you-to-correct-your-hearts/

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Ponder justice by reading this blog: http://charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.blogspot.com/2009/09/tribulation-in-life.html

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Find a quote from St. John Chrysostom on cultivating virtue in our children’s lives here: http://charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.blogspot.com/2015/05/virtue-in-their-souls.html

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Find encouragement to maintain watchfulness in your life here: http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/morningoffering/2015/02/watchfulness/

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Read about what St. Thomas did to care for the poor, in this story: http://charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.blogspot.com/2012/10/for-consideration.html#more

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Find encouragement to stay strong in your faith in Christ in this blog: http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/morningoffering/2014/07/faith-in-secular-world-being-orthodox-2/

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Read this blog on the importance of controlling one’s anger: http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/morningoffering/2014/05/anger-in-every-way-we-must-strive-to/

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Find out what St. John Chrysostom says about who should participate in hospitality in this quote: http://orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2013/09/06/st-john-chrysostom-every-family-should-have-a-room/

Holy Week and Pascha

We are very nearly ready to celebrate the bright sadness of Holy Week, and the glorious resurrection of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ! As Sunday Church School teachers, this may mean that we will not see our precious students as often in the classroom, but we can still support their learning!

Here are a few ideas of learning activities which can happen at home. Some of these may be helpful to pass on to the parents of our students, either via email or in a brief note handed out during this week’s class:

A suggestion for creating a Pascha tree laden with icons of the miracles of Christ, to be decorated as the week goes on: http://goodbooksforyoungsouls.blogspot.com/2012/04/holy-week-miracles-of-christ.html?m=1

Suggestions of things “not to miss!” with children during the services of Holy Week and Pascha: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2010/03/holy-week-for-kids.html

A link to a page of ideas that could be used in creating a Holy Week scrapbook with (and for) kids: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2009/03/holy-week-scrapbook.html

Suggestions for parents to maximize the week as a family:

http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/holyweekguide

Let us, as SCS teachers, engage our students as often as possible, throughout Holy Week and Pascha. We will see them at services, and should greet them with joy. Besides conveying our delight at their presence at the service(s), we can also ask each student a question related to that particular service which will strengthen their learning and encourage them to keep growing in their faith. Here are a few sample questions appropriate for varying age levels: “Who is the Bridegroom that we were singing about tonight? How are we like the servants with the lamps?”; “What happened to you when you were anointed with the Holy Oil?”; “Which part of the Royal Hours service meant the most to you this year? Why?”; “Did you remember the Lamentations songs? Which is your favorite? Why?”; “What does Pascha mean to you? How does Christ’s resurrection affect your life?”; etc.

Thy sufferings we adore, O Christ!
Make us to behold thy glorious Resurrection.

Gleanings from a Book: “The Ascetic Lives of Mothers: a Prayer Book for Orthodox Moms” by Annalisa Boyd

“I heard it said once that motherhood is a type of asceticism. Like the ascetics, mothers find themselves in a situation that requires their utter devotion, self-denial, daily emotional exercises, facing extreme challenges, and much prayer.” (p.17-18)

Those of us who are mothers know this to be true. There are many moments in each day when we give up our own desires to meet the needs of those around us; especially those of our children. How, then, do we have time to “pray without ceasing” while meeting those needs? Annalisa Boyd meets that question head-on in the introduction to her uplifting and helpful book, The Ascetic Lives of Mothers: a Prayer Book for Orthodox Moms.

This book is a must-have for any Orthodox mom who wants to prayerfully raise her children in the Faith. The heartening chapters at the beginning of the book set the reader’s mind at ease that she is not the only mother going through tough circumstances or wondering how on earth to live her Faith in the midst of the mundane tasks of motherhood. The bulk of the book is the myriad of prayers for various situations, which have been carefully gathered and organized by topic, and can therefore be easily found. The book includes basic daily prayers, prayers for times of trouble, prayers for the sick, preparation for confession, prayers of blessing and thankfulness, prayers through the stages of motherhood, prayers for godchildren and other “bonus” children, prayers for the future, and more.

A highlight of the book (and the largest chapter of all), titled “Tea Time at the Abyss”, references this quote:

“Stand at the brink of the abyss of despair, and when you see that you cannot bear it anymore, draw back a little and have a cup of tea.” ~ Elder Sophrony of Essex

In this chapter’s introduction, Boyd reassures the reader, “Let us step back and take tea together as mothers. Of course we may not be able to sit at each other’s tables and sip a perfectly steeped pot together, but we can pray for one another and be an encouragement. We can make a pot of gratitude for all the Lord has blessed us with and sip it throughout the day through prayer and the reading of His word. We can choose to face the difficulties, in the strength of Christ our Lord and lay down the idea that we must somehow bear it all. How freeing is that thought alone? May we take hold of even the smallest moments each day to enter into prayer, allowing us to step back and drink in Christ, for He promises to quench our thirst and give us His peace. Thank God!” (p. 38-39) The rest of the chapter lists topics from “Addiction” to “Special Needs,” which include quotes from scriptures and saints, as well as prayers related to each topic. (Note: some of the prayers in this book are prayers prescribed by the Church. Others are “simply prayers from the heart of one mama to another… (to) be used for encouragement and to promote your own personal prayer time with Our Lord.” ~ pp. 11-12)

This book is a wonderful aid to mothers at any stage in life. While it is aimed primarily at mothers, many of the quotes and prayers will be just as uplifting and useful for fathers, as well. It will be a much-used companion to any parent who adds it to their library and then faithfully uses it to help them to “pray without ceasing.”

“It is of great significance if there is a person who truly prays in a family. Prayer attracts God’s Grace and all the members of the family feel it, even those whose hearts have grown cold. Pray always.” ~ Elder Thaddeus

The Ascetic Lives of Mothers: a Prayer Book for Orthodox Moms by Annalisa Boyd is available for purchase here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/the-ascetic-lives-of-mothers/

Follow the author’s blog, “The Ascetic Lives of Mothers,” here:http://theasceticlivesofmothers.blogspot.com/

Gleanings from a book: “Walking in Wonder” by Elizabeth White

Great Lent is an ideal time for all of us as Orthodox Christians to review our lives and actively seek to become better followers of Christ. As parents, we are not only responsible for our own spiritual growth, but we are also responsible to nurture our children’s journeys towards God and His kingdom. We need all the help we can get, and a good place to start is in the slim but powerful book Walking in Wonder, by Elizabeth White.

The 67 pages of this book are packed with goals, encouragement, stories, and practical suggestions that will help its readers to nurture Orthodox Christian virtues in their children. Each chapter is just the right size to be read in a short time, which is all the time that most parents have! Despite their brevity, each of the seven chapters is packed with both ideas and admonitions. Each chapter addresses an important part of our children’s Christian lives: the spiritual needs of a child; getting ready to worship; getting ready to know God; getting ready to listen to God; getting ready to obey God; getting ready to serve others; and getting ready to share in God’s life. Each begins with related quotes; continues with goals for the chapter; goes on with several pages of insightful writing; and, finally, ends with a variety of directly-related activities that can assist the reader in helping their children to grow in that aspect of their Christian life.

Here’s an excerpt from chapter 7 (more can be found at http://www.antiochian.org/node/16620):

Among Christians, Orthodox parents are in a unique position as far as religious education goes. We have immediately at hand ready-made tools for impressing God’s truths upon the child’s heart in the most natural ways. Our worship involves all the senses, our bodies as well as our minds. From the beginning of life, the infant smells the incense; tastes the communion bread and wine; sees the candles and icons; hears the chanting, singing, and beautiful recitation of prayers. At an early age she touches the holy things of God and knows intuitively that she is in a holy place…
While the church can surround the child with hints of a larger reality-God’s Kingdom-through its architecture, liturgical rituals, education classes, and symbols, the parent must remain the primary religious educator. Brief Sunday school classes are not enough for such a great task. It is the parents who co-create, with God, the stepping-stones to faith; who show by their words and actions, as best they can, the journey to theosis. It is their task, more than any other’s, to teach the special kind of communication we call worship. Symbols need explaining; explanations need giving. Our religious language, or the way we communicate our faith by everything we do and say, needs careful thought. Above all, remember that religious education is not something that stops at age sixteen. Growing in faith is a family affair. As John Boojamra has said, education “belongs wherever it can take place, wherever people can be affected, changed or influenced meaningfully.”
The Orthodox Church is a church of celebration; when our children are active participants in church life, when they can share in our celebrations, they learn the reality of God’s active presence in their lives. Nor should our Orthodox rituals be restricted within the walls of the Orthodox temple. Our homes are considered “little churches,” which means that Orthodoxy must be taken home.

Let us as Orthodox Christian parents take this admonition to heart. Let us, indeed, bring Orthodoxy home to each of our children. Walking in Wonder is a practical place to start.

Order a copy of the book for your home library from http://store.ancientfaith.com/walking-in-wonder-nurturing-christian-virtues-in-your-children/.

Read more about author Elizabeth White at http://www.thefigtree.org/feb05/020105white.html.