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On Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing: Principle #3: Understand Struggles in Terms of the Values and the Virtues of the Kingdom of God

Note: This series of blog posts will focus on principles important to Orthodox Christians who are raising children. The series will feature a closer look at Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ book, “Parenting Toward the Kingdom: Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing.” Each week we will take a closer look at one section of the book, which is divided into 6 basic principles of child rearing. Find an overview blog post about the book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/02/08/gleanings-from-a-book-parenting-toward-the-kingdom-by-dr-philip-mamalakis/. We thank Dr. Mamalakis and Ancient Faith Publishing for giving us permission to share his wisdom with you in this way. Purchase your own copy of his book here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/parenting-toward-the-kingdom/.
Principle #3: Understand Struggles in Terms of the Values and the Virtues of the Kingdom of God.
Dr. Mamalakis’ third principle of parenting encourages parents to understand struggles in terms of the values and the virtues of the Kingdom of God. This principle is covered by two chapters in his book “Parenting Toward the Kingdom.” The chapters encourage parents to name their child’s struggle and to separate their own struggle from their child’s.

Dr. Mamalakis begins addressing this third principle by reminding the reader that if we are truly parenting toward the kingdom, we need to name our children’s struggles and frame every struggle that they encounter in the context of the kingdom. That is, we must look at each struggle in terms of the values and virtues of the Kingdom of God. Every struggle our children experience is an opportunity to help them learn those values and virtues. God has placed each of us into our family to struggle and learn together about His kingdom: that is what family life is all about. We parents need to watch our words, and choose carefully what messages we engrave on our children’s souls with the way in which we speak to them. Dr. Mamalakis offers real-life examples from his family, as well as suggestions of wording choices that point our children toward the Kingdom instead of cutting them down. Naming our children’s struggles and having them brainstorm ideas of ways to accomplish whatever is causing the struggle teaches our children how to do what is right on their own, instead of forcing them to comply to our own will. Along the way, we also are teaching our children the following: to connect Church life and home life; how to rightly view (and treat) their siblings; while demonstrating our delight to be struggling together with each of our children. It is important that we note their effort in their struggles, especially when they are making good choices in the face of those struggles. In order to be able to step back and name our children’s struggles, we first need to take a look at our own struggles as parents.

Dr. Mamalakis continues to address the third principle with a chapter encouraging parents to see our own struggles and to separate our struggles from those of our children. He helps the reader to understand that the way that we go about struggling to help our children with their struggles teaches them much about the Kingdom of God. He notes that children need their parents to stand lovingly beside them while they struggle and as they learn to pick themselves up. Children do not benefit from parents who just jump in and rescue them from their struggle. But neither should we abandon them in their struggle: we need to learn how to join them, to be with them and support them while they struggle and get back on track. It is not our job as parents to take away our children’s struggles: it is our job to help them learn to succeed in their struggles. As we do so, we must be continually mindful of our own struggles and how God is standing beside us in our struggle. Our own struggles help us to grow closer to Him and His Church.

 

May God help us all to learn to understand our family’s struggles (both our children’s and our own) in terms of the values and the virtues of the Kingdom of God.

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

 

Here are a few gleanings from the chapters related to Principle #3:

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“Children learn important skills of life as they struggle to wait until after dinner for dessert. God gives us the struggles of dinner before dessert, and all the struggles of childhood, to help us acquire the values and the virtues of the Kingdom of God. (p. 89; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“In the home, in the struggles, is where we are learning patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, sharing, taking turns, helping others, and, essentially, selfless love. It is in the home that we are working out our salvation, being perfected in Christ, and being made holy.” (p. 89; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“What does sibling fighting or a child’s misbehavior have to do with the Kingdom of God? …These struggles catch me offguard all the time. In fact, I never have time for [my children’s] fights. However, I have to remind myself that this is what my time is really for.” (p. 91; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Consider what comes out of your mouth when you react to your children’s misbehaviors. Most of us end up saying the very things our parents used to say to us, no matter how much we swore we would never do that. It’s instinctive. Our parents’ statements are written on our souls, and what we say to our children in these moments will be engraved on their souls. We can choose the messages we want our children to carry with them their whole lives. Choose wisely. It is an act of love toward our children to engrave godly, biblical messages of truth on their souls.” (pp. 93-94; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Mistakes are understood to be part of the learning process—at school, at least. Why not at home? …If we say ‘You don’t listen,’ or ‘Why do you always lie around?’ or ‘You’re mean to your sister!’ these messages will end up etched on the souls of our children. We don’t want that. We want to engrave things on their hearts that will be useful for them the rest of their lives. ‘Listen to each other’s words.’ ‘First we clean up, then we rest.’ ‘Be kind to your sister.'” (p. 95; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“We want the language of the home to be filled with the virtues of God, even in the midst of the struggles. When children are distressed, they are not able to listen, and short statements go a long way toward communicating what is true. Remember, these struggles will happen all the time, and we have a long time to form our children by what we say. In the struggle is when they learn the most, and what we say in those moments is what they will remember the most.” (pp. 96-97; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“The art of parenting: Name their struggle. Keep the limits firm. Brainstorm. Repeat.” (p.101; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Naming their struggle, when done with compassion, communicates empathy and respect and allows us to join our children in their struggle without rescuing them. Parenting is not about getting children to do the right thing or making their life easy, but trying to walk close to them as they learn how to struggle to do the right thing.” (p. 103; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Allow each child to struggle in his or her unique way and delight in them, even though they struggle. One of the most powerful messages we can communicate to our children is that we are glad that we get to be their parents—and the best time to teach that is when they make a mistake or misbehave. We communicate that love and respect as we respond by naming their struggle, keeping limits firm, and giving consequences. Help everyone in the home recognize that we are all on the same journey, each of us struggles with different things along the way, and we’re glad we get to struggle with them.” (p.;107 “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Children don’t need to be praised or told that they are great, because those are empty words. What they do need is to have their efforts and good decisions recognized. This keeps the focus on the path we want them to keep walking on.” (p.109; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Our kids’ behaviors affect us in all sorts of ways. Our struggle as parents is to resist the temptation to react to misbehaviors and to respond at all times in the best interest of our children Our struggle is to focus on our long-term goals in every interaction with our children, no matter how we’re feeling… Their misbehavior might disturb our peace and our plans when they misbehave at home, or disappoint and embarrass us when they misbehave in public. That is our struggle, not theirs. It is not their fault they are children, and it is not their fault we struggle with their behaviors. Parenting is the intersection of our struggle as a parent and their struggle as a child.” (pp112-113; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“…to succeed as parents, we need to keep our struggle separate from our child’s struggle, and respond based on our child’s struggle, not our own. As we struggle to respond to our children, we model for them how to struggle and to respond to their challenges. As we cultivate the virtues of the Kingdom of God in our parenting, we teach our children how to live according to the virtues of the Kingdom of God.” (p.113; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Children need us to be close to them when they struggle, not to rescue them from the struggle. If we love our kids, we want to prepare them to succeed in life, which means helping them develop the capacity to get back up when they fall, dust themselves off, and ask for help if they need it.” (p. 115; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Just as the only way to strengthen our muscles is by stressing them, the only way for children to become strong is through struggling. This is where growth happens. However, we don’t need to abandon our kids in their trials or create trials for them. Life provides ample opportunities for children to struggle, learn, and grow. We need to learn how to join them in these struggles.” (p. 117; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Being alone in the struggle is what leaves lasting painful memories. If we want to raise disciplined and motivated children, we need to allow them to experience the normal hardships and struggles of life. If we love our children, we join them in those struggles. Children need struggles in order to thrive. They just don’t need to go through them alone.” (p. 121; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Taking time out to learn about parenting, giving yourself a time-out when you are about to react, and going to talk to someone about your struggles are great steps toward attending to your struggles. Once we recognize that the parenting problems we face are invitations for us as parents to grow, it opens up a whole pathway for our own healing… As we learn to attend to our struggles, resist the temptation to react, and learn to respond, we walk the path of healing and salvation. In fact, it is through the struggles of parenting that we can acquire the Holy Spirit and the virtues of the Kingdom of God.” (p. 124; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

 

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On Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing: Principle #2: Respond, Don’t React

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

Principle #2: Respond, Don’t React

In the chapters that address Orthodox Christian parenting principle #2, “Respond, don’t react,” Dr. Philip Mamalakis encourages parents to think about “Responding to Our Children” and “Why Children Misbehave.” He begins in chapter 3 by talking about how easy it is to react to our children’s misbehaviors: and how little good results when parents react instead of responding. He compares our children’s misbehaviors to weeds: reacting to them is mowing them off – a temporary fix. Responding to the misbehaviors, however, is akin to pulling weeds with their roots and then fertilizing where the weeds had been to encourage proper growth. Responding requires intentional thought from parents and helps children towards the long-term goal of godliness by addressing the reasons that they were misbehaving. The chapter continues with a discussion of these parenting truths: discipline is more effective long-term than punishment; reacting while angry does not teach our children what we want them to learn, so we must always exercise patience; leniency/permissiveness are not in our children’s best interest; micromanaging/criticizing our children strains the parent-child relationship; and commending positive behaviors should happen with words that reinforce effort or virtues rather than statements that reflect back on us parents (ie: “I noticed your patience with your sister” vs. “I am so proud of you”). He goes on to acknowledge that reacting is much easier than responding, but suggests that responding is actually our vocation as parents, for it raises our children in godliness, while also shaping us. He suggests that if we consider the reasons behind our children’s misbehavior, we will better be able to figure out how to respond.

Chapter 4 focuses on why children misbehave. There are many reasons why a child may behave wrongly. We parents need to respond to our children’s behavior based on the reasons behind that behavior. He addresses a few reasons for misbehaviors in this chapter. When it seems that children are seeking attention, most likely they are just wishing to connect with us, as is their innate desire. Connecting with our children and teaching them how to connect with others is essential to parenting because we humans are wired for connection. Dr. Mamalakis addresses negative interpretations of our children’s behavior, showing that such interpretations are really judgments and criticisms which will result in negative parenting behavior. We need to be careful not to overreact or under-respond. He states that although we should expect poor behavior, we should not accept it. And, although it is very difficult, regardless of how long it takes our children to learn, we must be consistent, firm, and patient. We also must live in the way we expect our children to live: modeling with our own interactions and responses how we want them to interact and respond. Responding instead of reacting focuses on our long-term goals for our children, and gives us the opportunity to focus on each child and their personhood, not just react to their behavior.

May God help us all to learn to respond, not to react.

 

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

Here are a few gleanings from the chapters related to Principle #2:

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“Reacting is usually about stopping behavior we don’t want to see in the short term rather than teaching skills, behaviors, or virtues we do want to see in the long term. Reacting to our children’s misbehaviors short-circuits or co-opts their good learning process. They will still learn; they just won’t learn anything good.” (p. 45; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“The most damaging thing about reacting to misbehaviors is that it communicates to a child that he is bad and that we do not love him because of a choice he made. That teaches a child that there is something wrong with him and our love is conditional, that he needs to earn our love by behaving well. Children learn to comply so they can receive our ‘love,’ but they can grow up confused about their real worth and identity and become really good at pretending to act a certain way so they will be loved by others.” (pp. 45-46; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Only by responding to misbehaviors can we communicate to our children that we are interested more in loving them as persons than in controlling their behaviors… Reacting to children ignores the reasons for the misbehaviors and, as a result, communicates a lack of respect for the person of the child.” (pp. 46-47; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Parenting is about guiding the souls of our children rather than just correcting behavior. To teach proper behavior, we must respond to our children rather than reacting to their behavior.” (pp. 47-48; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Responding gives children the freedom to learn free of criticism, shame, judgment, anger, and blame. Responding does not mean being lenient. It means being calm when we are strict. Responding communicates to our children the truth about the gospel that they are deeply loved in the midst of their failures and struggles. It communicates our respect for our children as persons in the midst of their learning and mistakes. In this way, we model God’s love, which becomes embedded in their hearts.” (p. 51; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Learning how to parent is not about learning how to get our children to behave; it’s about learning how to get ourselves to behave. Remember, modeling is the most effective way to teach our children.” (p. 51; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Responding requires us to be intentional, patient, kind, gentle, self-controlled, long-suffering, meek, faithful, wise, and loving when our children misbehave. Responding is the way we model all the virtues we want our children to learn. Responding to our children is the way we venerate them as icons of Christ and requires a certain amount of trust that Gdd is working in our children through the struggles over time… Reacting reflects a lack of faith that God is working in our child’s soul.” (p. 60; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“We can’t respond effectively until we understand what exactly our child is struggling with.” (p. 64; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“While some children act up because they want everyone to look at them, I’d like to suggest that most often our kids are looking for a connection with their parents, not for mere attention. Children desire to connect with us all the time by being physically close, spending time with us, getting to know us, and letting us know them. Connection is central to our human nature, and children are wired to seek it. Connection is food for our children’s souls. We are created as relational beings in the image and likeness of a relational God who is three Persons in one communion of love. Its through our relationships with each other and with God that we experience intimacy and develop as human beings.” (p. 66; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Children will model our behaviors and mannerisms and adopt our values more thoroughly the more connected they feel to us… Learning how to parent is about learning how to connect with our children all the time, as we get our tasks done throughout the day.” (p. 68; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“No matter why they are misbehaving, connecting with our children needs to be central to how we respond to any misbehavior… Nurturing connection with our children strengthens our relationship with them and empowers them to make good decisions.” (p. 72; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Your child is not supposed to be hardworking, selfless, kind, and patient. He is supposed to be learning how to be hardworking, selfless, kind, and patient. If our children are learning, we should expect struggles and mistakes, and we should interpret our kids misbehaviors in a way that reflects these long-term goals. (p. 72; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Instead of an attitude of ‘I don’t care what you’re feeling; you can’t behave like that,’ we can take the attitude of ‘I care about how you’re feeling, and you can’t behave like that.’” (p. 78; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing: Principle #1: Always Parent with the End in Mind

Note: This series of blog posts will focus on principles important to Orthodox Christians who are raising children. The series will feature a closer look at Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ book, “Parenting Toward the Kingdom: Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing.” Each week we will take a closer look at one section of the book, which is divided into 6 basic principles of child rearing. Find an overview blog post about the book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/02/08/gleanings-from-a-book-parenting-toward-the-kingdom-by-dr-philip-mamalakis/. We thank Dr. Mamalakis and Ancient Faith Publishing for giving us permission to share his wisdom with you in this way. Purchase your own copy of his book here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/parenting-toward-the-kingdom/.
Principle #1: Always parent with the end in mind.

Dr. Mamalakis encourages us to “Think Long Term” and to consider “How Children Learn” in the first two chapters of “Parenting Toward the Kingdom,” which address the first principle of parenting: “Always parent with the end in mind.” Parenting with the end in mind requires that we think beyond the moment and our short-term goals (ie: for peace and quiet at the dinner table) to what our long-term goals for our children may be (ie: for them to learn to work out their disagreements in a godly manner) and act towards that end. To be able to do so, we need to think first of what type of adults we wish our children to be when they are grown. Dr. Mamalakis suggests that, as Orthodox Christian parents, we think far beyond earthly “success” as a goal for our children, and look instead to what will make our children successful followers of Christ. He cites examples from the scriptures and from Church tradition that can help us to know the values and virtues that should be our goal for our children. He urges that we parent patiently and consistently, always keeping our end goal in mind. He offers a list of short-term goals that can easily tempt us away from our long-term goals. He shares this list so that we can be aware of these potentially-hazardous short-term goals and how they can harm our long-term desires for our children. He reminds us that we will struggle to succeed in this; but that our children need to see us struggle. The important thing is that we respond in an adult-like manner, and that our responses move all of us toward our mutual goal of godliness.

Parenting with the end in mind also requires that we give consideration to the way that children learn. Rather than learning about how they should live and conduct themselves best through lecture, our children are best able to learn this through their daily interactions with us. Struggling to acquire the values and virtues of the Kingdom of God will help our children to better learn and thus acquire them. In that sense, struggle is good. Our children need to experience everyday struggles with life, while being guided by parents who are struggling as well but firm in our convictions to lead our children to the Kingdom of Heaven. Dr. Mamalakis suggests that our three most important parenting tools are our life example, our relationship with our children, and how we speak to them. He states that the thing that teachers our children the most is our own behavior. He gently reminds us that God is at work through matter, both in icons and in His living icons (everyone around us). Dr. Mamalakis advises us to remember that our children are icons of Christ, and that we must treat them as such, and thus teach them to treat others in the same way. He reminds us that because children are always learning, we must always be intentional in how we live our life, how we relate to our children, and in what we say to them.

Chapter 1, “Think Long Term” can be read in its entirety (along with the acknowledgements and introduction to the book) at http://store.ancientfaith.com/parenting-toward-the-kingdom/, if you would like to sample it for yourself!

Here are a few gleanings from the chapters related to Principle #1:

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“The best place to begin a conversation on parenting is at the end. We need to know what we’re working toward so we can talk about how to accomplish our goals. Parenting is a long-term commitment and a long-term process.” (p. 17 ; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Sometimes our short-term goals can distract us from our long-term goals. Parents are tempted to intervene to stop misbehaviors in the short term in a way that undermines our long-term goals. That is like giving your child the answer to his math homework. In the short term, he finishes his work more quickly and without struggle, but in the long term, he doesn’t learn math. Getting a child to stop misbehaving can solve the short-term problem of misbehavior, but it does not necessarily teach him, long-term, how to control his own behavior. Sometimes we need to give up our short-term desires to work toward our long-term goals.”  (pp. 18-19; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“God’s desire is for us to raise children who know Him, who live in His love, and who walk in His ways. God wants our children to know who He is and grow up near Him, to become saints. That is success.”  (p. 20; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Successful children are those who internalize the values and virtues of the kingdom of God, so that when they go away to college or get married they live according to these values—not because we are watching or because we say so, but because they believe these things deeply in their hearts.” (p. 23; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Parenting requires patience—not the patience that puts up with inappropriate behavior, but the patience that intervenes effectively, repeatedly, as long as our child struggles. This allows our children the opportunity to struggle to grow, to learn, to love, and to acquire the values and virtues they will need as adults. Patience means we respond consistently and appropriately every time they struggle, because we have our long-term goals in mind.”(p. 25; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“If we love our children, we walk with them through the struggles; we don’t remove the struggles.” (p. 28; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Parenting itself is a struggle we cannot escape… Children need human parents who struggle to learn with them. If you’ve taken a moment to consider your long-term goals for your children, or God’s long-term goals for them, you’ve already taken the first step toward helping your children. We should expect children to act like children. The best we can do as parents is to act like adults in the way we respond, and choose the response that moves us toward our long-term goals.”(p. 28; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Children are shaped in and through each interaction we have with them, from the moment of conception to the moment we depart this life. God gives us each interaction with our children as a means of communicating His truths.

“More specifically, children learn most by how we respond when they misbehave. Children learn that we love them no matter what when we respond respectfully and effectively when they fight, talk back, disobey, or stand on tables…”(p. 31; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“The three most important tools we have as parents are:

>> The way we live our own lives,

>> the way we relate to our children, and

>> what we say to them.” (p. 32; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Children will learn what is true by how they see us behave more than by what they hear us say.” (p. 34; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“The truth is that God loves us deeply and cherishes each and every one of us, no matter how we behave. Each of our children is uniquely loved and adored by God—so much so that He gave His only Son for each one. Our children are incredibly valuable and special to God, not because they are perfect and no matter what they say or how they act. God simply loves them…
“Children will internalize this truth about themselves and God if we treat them with love and respect—all the time, but particularly when they misbehave. Children can only learn unconditional love when they experience their parents’ love and respect when they misbehave.” (p. 35; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Parenting is about raising children who understand themselves and others as icons of Christ. This is true self-esteem.” (p. 36; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“If we want to teach our children respect, they need to feel respected by us, even when they talk back. If we want them to learn how to listen, they need to feel heard, even when they don’t listen to us. If we want them to know the nature of God’s love for them, they need to experience God’s love from us, particularly when they are unloving toward us. Children really do learn what they live—most deeply when they struggle and misbehave.” (pp. 37-38; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

 

On Acts 2:42: “They Continued Steadfastly in the Apostles’ Doctrine and Fellowship, in the Breaking of Bread, and in Prayers.”

Note: the Antiochian Archdiocese’s Creative Arts Festival 2018’s theme is the inspiration for this blog post. We will take a closer look at the theme, to help our children to better prepare for the festival in case they will be participating. Whether or not our children participate, what we can learn from this passage in the book of Acts is applicable to all of us, not just the children participating in the festival!

The 2018 Creative Arts Festival for the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America is focused on Acts 2:42, “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” If our children are participating in this festival, they will need to understand what this verse means before they will be able to illustrate or write about it accurately. Actually, regardless of whether or not our children participate in the festival, this passage is worth a look. It helps us to think about our roots as the Orthodox Christian Church, and gives us an idea of how the apostles lived, which can serve as an example to us today.

We will begin by looking at the verse itself. Our children may need us to define some of the words in the verse before they can begin to understand it. The unfamiliar words in this verse can be explained in very simple terms like these:

“Continued” means they kept on doing something without stopping

“Steadfastly” means firmly, without turning away or quitting

“Doctrine” means a set of teachings or beliefs

“Fellowship” means friends spending time together, hanging out

So it could read something like this, “They kept on going firmly without stopping, following the teachings of the apostles and hanging out together, breaking bread and praying.” The simpler terminology might help our children understand the gist of the verse, but part of the verse has innuendos that our children will not catch unless we look at the verse through the eyes of experts.

So, let’s look at the verse as it is explained by trusted Orthodox scholars. The Orthodox Study Bible’s notes on this verse state that “Central elements of Orthodox worship—apostolic teaching, liturgical prayer and the Eucharist—are present from the very beginning of the Church.” It goes on to explain that the prayers referenced in the verse were the liturgical prayers of the Church, and that “the breaking of the bread” refers to the Eucharist, or Holy Communion. In other words, from the very beginning of the Church, the Christians stood firm in what the apostles taught, fellowshipped together, partook of the Eucharist and prayed the liturgical prayers of the Church.

The Orthodox Christian church, begun by the apostles themselves, has continued in this steadfastness and passed it along from generation to generation. We know that today we still have the opportunity to follow the apostles’ doctrine, while also experiencing the opportunity for fellowship, Communion, and prayers when we gather together. So, essentially, this verse gives us an idea of how our Faith should look: full of steadfast belief in the scriptures and traditions handed down by the apostles all the way to our current bishops and priests; hanging out with our Church family to encourage, challenge, and purify each other; and regularly partaking of the gifts offered to us in the Church: especially Holy Eucharist and prayers. The verse also reaffirms that our Faith is The Faith: for it is as old as the early Church! What a blessing it is to be part of that Church today!

Let us, therefore, have as our goal to also “continue steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”

Here are some ideas of ways to help our children (whether or not they will be participating in the aforementioned Creative Arts Festival) to learn about this passage:

***

This website is not Orthodox, but their presentation of the story which is the context for Acts 2:42 can easily be used in an Orthodox setting, especially for children who have never heard the story before. (You will want to read through the text as it is written before sharing it with your family, and figure out how to make it more fully Orthodox/appropriate for the childen in your family.) https://missionbibleclass.org/1b0-new-testament/new-testament-part-2/acts-the-church-begins/the-first-church/
***

If your parish is participating in the Creative Arts Festival, you can find information about it here: http://www.antiochian.org/festivals/cf

***

If your children will be participating in the 2018 Creative Arts Festival, you may want to help them begin to think of what they can submit to the festival. There are a lot of different ways that they can interpret this year’s Creative Arts Festival theme. If your children cannot come up with any ideas of their own, perhaps they will be able to find inspiration here: http://antiochian.org/festivals/cf/Interpretations-theme-2018

Suggestions include:
*Depictions of early Christians worshipping
* People worshipping during Divine Liturgy today
*Receiving Holy Communion
*Learning about things Jesus taught the Apostles by listening to the Epistle and Gospel readings
*Helping one another like the early Christians did by donating food or clothing, serving at a homeless shelter, etc.

If your children will not be participating in the festival, consider encouraging them to respond artistically to this verse anyway. Better yet, take time for each family member to create a piece of art based on this verse. What does it inspire in each of you?
***

After reading and studying together about the context of Acts 2:42, take some time as a family to think about how you can be more like the apostles. What can your family do to be more steadfast in your faith? How can you learn more about what the Orthodox Church believes and teaches? What can you do to improve on fellowship with others – Orthodox or not? How can your family do a better job of continuing to commune and to pray? Brainstorm a list of ideas, then select one or two to work on first. Once you’ve conquered that or improved in that area, move on to another on the list. Make it your family’s goal to become more and more like the Christians talked about in Acts 2:42!

***

After studying Acts 2:42, talk together about the apostles and how they interacted. Then talk about the people you know, and compare them to the apostles. Ask your children, “Who do we know that lives like the apostles did? Do we know anyone who is steadfast? Who knows the doctrines of our Church? Who continues fellowshipping with others? Who breaks bread (or prepares the Eucharist)? Who lives a life of prayer? Make a list of those people together. Then, as a family, write a note to each of them to thank them for their example. Families with very young children can have the children decorate the outside of a card that someone older can write inside. Families with older children can split up the list and have each person write to someone on the list. The intent with the note is to let the person know that we see them living according to Acts 2:42, to thank them for their godly example, and to encourage them to keep doing what they are doing! (As a side benefit, we also get to see how these principles are applied to modern day life as we recognize them at work in the life of others)

***
Here are some family devotionals that are related to the early church, which have Acts 2:42 as their suggested memory verse. These devotionals are non-Orthodox, but can still provide food for thought for Orthodox families. They are intended to be used in the week after studying the passage at Sunday Church School, so you may wish to consider studying these (or their most helpful parts) on the week after your children study the Creative Festival theme (if your parish is participating). Find the devotionals here (and remember to read through them and select the parts that are most applicable to your family, and share those): http://calvarystp.org/cm/devotionals/DEVNT286.pdf

 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

The book is available for purchase here:

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

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

***

“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”

 

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

 

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

 

***

“Blessed are those who mourn…”

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

***

“Blessed are the meek…”

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

***

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

***

“Blessed are the merciful…”

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

***

 

“Blessed are the pure in heart…”

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

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

 

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

 

***

“Blessed are the peacemakers…”

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

***

“Blessed are those who are persecuted…”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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