Tag Archives: Faith

A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Chapter 2

Note: This series of blog posts will offer ideas of how to build up the little church in your home. The series will take a closer look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker. Each week we will take a look at one portion of the book and focus on the wisdom and ideas offered there. Find an overview of the entire book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/gleanings-from-a-book-blueprints-for-the-little-church-creating-an-orthodox-home-by-elissa-bjeletich-and-caleb-shoemaker/

We thank Elissa Bjeletich, Caleb Shoemaker, and Ancient Faith Publishing for granting us permission to share the book with you in this way. Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints

 

Chapter 2: Getting Started

The authors of “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” encourage their readers to begin changing their lifestyle to better reflect the life of the Church, but they implore the reader to do so gently. This second chapter of the book offers suggestions of ways to bring the Faith to life in our own homes in a very basic and focused manner. Too much too soon can easily burn a family out, which is not at all the goal. The goal is to grow, and to continue growing, not to flash into a flame that quickly extinguishes.

The reader is encouraged to consider the maxim that Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory was given when he was a young, enthusiastic college student: “Go to church; say your prayers; remember God.” (p. 37) The authors encourage their readers to consider that statement important, because it’s short but full of wisdom when it comes to living the Orthodox Christian life. These three actions will greatly strengthen our little Church. They can be carried out in different ways, none “better” than the others. But our priority should always be that we attend the Divine Services, pray, and keep God foremost in our minds.

The chapter offers suggestions from parents and grandparents of ways to begin doing these things. It shares wise suggestions from Fr. Seraphim Rose as well. Again and again, the reader hears that they should go to church, pray, and remember God. Each suggestion recommends applying gentleness when starting new Orthodox practices, and that families be gracious with themselves and each other along the way. The chapter closes with the admonishment that when we fall, we need to get back up again every time.

 

If you have a parenting question for the “Blueprints For the Little Church” authors, you can connect with Elissa here https://elissabjeletich.com/contact/ and email Caleb at caleb.shoemaker@gmail.com.

Here are a few gleanings from chapter 2:

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“The two things all Orthodox families should begin doing immediately are very simple: Pray and go to church.” (p. 36, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Begin by committing to attendance at every Sunday liturgy, rain or shine, and begin to schedule your extracurricular activities around church. If your family expects you at Mother’s Day brunch, tell them you’ll hurry over after church. If the soccer team always plays on Sunday morning, let them know that you’ll be in church. Make the firm commitment to attend church every Sunday.” (p. 38, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Many saints’ lives teach us that simple humility and fervent prayer bring us closer to God. Trust in this, and don’t get lost in an effort to do everything all at once. Begin to build your little church by laying a foundation of prayer and church attendance, and then build it up layer by layer, a little at a time.” (p. 41, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Learn first of all to be at peace with the spiritual situation which has been given you, and to make the most of it. If your situation is spiritually barren, do not let this discourage you, but work all the harder at what you yourself can do for your spiritual life. It is already something very important to have access to the Sacraments and regular church services. Beyond this you should have regular morning and evening prayers with your family, and spiritual reading—all according to your strength and the possibilities afforded by your circumstances.” (a quote from Fr. Seraphim Rose, as shared on p. 42, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“Ask God and His saints to help you as you shepherd your family along this path. Pray that all of you will grow in your love for Christ, that each of you will come to yearn for Him and for a life in the Church. This is the most important thing you can do to help your little church grow.” (p. 43, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“‘Don’t force children to pray, because that might make them become bitter towards it. Instead, just pray in front of them and ask them to participate. If they refuse to join in, then just pray by yourself and try again the next day. Lead by example.’ —Sophia, mother of two” (p. 44, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Introduction

Note: This series of blog posts will offer ideas of how to build up the little church in your home. The series will take a closer look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker. Each week we will take a look at one portion of the book and focus on the wisdom and ideas offered there. Find an overview of the entire book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/gleanings-from-a-book-blueprints-for-the-little-church-creating-an-orthodox-home-by-elissa-bjeletich-and-caleb-shoemaker/

We thank Elissa Bjeletich, Caleb Shoemaker, and Ancient Faith Publishing for granting us permission to share the book with you in this way. Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints

 

Week 1: Introduction

Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker begin their collaborative work, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” with important introductory pieces. Before they mention anything about building the family’s little church, they quite frankly (and repeatedly) urge their readers to each ask their priest which practices will be the best for their particular family. Each reader’s priest knows them and their family situation and thus can best speak to what will or will not be helpful to building the little church in that particular home.

The introductory chapter offers a bit of background for the book, including reasons the authors wrote it. They found that they needed a book like this when their children were younger, but there was none to be had. So they undertook the task to write this one. This introductory chapter offers suggestions of where to begin the process of creating an Orthodox home. It takes a moment to explain the concept of “the little church”. It also touches on what it means to live an Orthodox life. This first chapter is foundational to the book, and prepares the reader well for the subsequent chapters.

Do you have a parenting question for the “Blueprints For the Little Church” authors? Connect with Elissa here: https://elissabjeletich.com/contact/ and email Caleb at caleb.shoemaker@gmail.com.

 

Here are a few gleanings that can offer you a closer look at the beginning of the book:

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“As you attempt to implement the concepts you find here, you may run into trouble. Whenever you’re in doubt, please ask your priest.” (p. 5, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“‘Even at their age they are exposed to all sorts of folly and bad examples from popular entertainments. Our children need remedies for all these things! We are so concerned with our children’s schooling; if only we were equally zealous in bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord!’” ~St. John Chrysostom (p. 7, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“This book is for parents… We offer this book from sincere hearts to you who desire to present the rich heritage of the Orthodox Church’s teachings for families — what our great saints and elders have often called ‘the little church’.” (p. 9, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“For many families, it is hard enough to get the family up and out of bed for the Divine Liturgy each week — let alone to take on daily prayer, frequent Scripture reading, weekly fasting, Lenten seasons, Vespers, vigils, Matins, and feast days! How can we do everything we’re ‘supposed to do’ when it’s hard enough to find time to do the bare minimum? How are we to raise saints when our toddler doesn’t want to keep his diaper on?” (pp. 10-11, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“‘My wise priest advised me to stop comparing, to know that we are all running this race together but we must run it with our heads down. When I stopped worrying about what others were doing, I was better able to focus and to lead my own family.’ ~ Elissa Bjeletich (p. 12, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“‘One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a parent was ask for help… Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’ll never know what your family can accomplish when you seek counsel and guidance along the path.’” ~ Caleb Shoemaker (pp. 13-14, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“In our modern culture, we compartmentalize our lives… Yet Jesus clearly calls us to love Him with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind. There is no compartmentalization in this, but true unity… Christ is calling us to a unified understanding of ourselves and our lives. Love for God must become the foundation of everything, and all aspects of our lives — our jobs and our families and our recreation, our meals and our entertainment — must all be connected to and part of a unified whole…” (p. 15, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“…the reality is that young people are fleeing the faith of their families, but not those whose families have instilled a deep faith within their hearts; and the little church is one of the defining reasons children stay in the Church as they grow up.” (p. 17, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“The Orthodox life is not complicated. It is beautiful in its simplicity, wondrous in its depth, vivifying in its ritual and sacraments. The complications are typically self-imposed when, instead of following the Church’s teachings or the admonitions of our priests and confessors, we try to cobble together a hodge-podge religion based mostly on external trappings and false deadlines.” (p. 19, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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If you’re interested in learning more about the ideas found in “Blueprints for the Little Church”, check out this webinar https://www.goarch.org/-/blueprints-for-the-little-church; this keynote address https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WHPZ57H5zPo; Elissa’s author website https://elissabjeletich.com/; and/or Caleb’s YouTube channel, “May I Have a Word?”: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDmih9jUJ5QKGXfU8iKI-aA/videos

A Closer Look at John 3:17

The Antiochian Archdiocese’s 2020 Creative Arts Festival has as its theme John 3:17, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Learning and understanding the meaning of this verse is pivotal to our Christian life, for it encourages us to examine condemnation, salvation, and judgement. In context, this verse also affords us the opportunity to choose for ourselves how to respond to God’s offer of salvation through Christ. As we study John 3:17, we can help our children to do the same. Thinking about this verse will help our children to grow in their Faith, while also preparing them to respond to it artistically, if they’re participating in the Festival. 

Rosemary Shumski, Creative Arts Festival coordinator for the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education, reflects on the theme in this guest blog:

Let’s examine this quote in context. Most of us are more familiar with the quote from John 3:16, which precedes it, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should have everlasting life.” We then have our Creative Festivals Theme, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17) This is followed by the quote, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18)

Here are some comments from the Orthodox Study Bible: “While Christ comes to save and not to condemn, man has free will. Thus he can reject this gift, and he becomes condemned by his own rejection.”

Jesus came into the world so that we could be rescued from condemnation. The name “Jesus” literally means “God saves.” He came to show us how we could be reunited with God. In his book, The Great I Came’s of Jesus, Fr. Anthony Coniaris states, “Before Jesus came, we were a fallen race. We needed not a judge to condemn us but a Savior to raise us from our fall…Jesus said, ‘Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but those who are sick. I have come not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’ We needed someone to lift us, to heal us, not someone to judge and condemn us.”

Because Jesus became incarnate, He is like us in all ways except sin, so He understands His people. Jesus is compassionate, because He knows what it’s like to be tempted. But we have to make the choice as to whether we want to turn away from Him or repent and turn to Him. God didn’t create us to be robots. Because He gave us free will, we have to make that decision for ourselves.

 

Find more information about the Creative Arts Festival theme for 2020 here: http://www.antiochian.org/dashboard?name=Creative%20Festivals%202020

Here are some ways that you can continue to ponder John 3:17:

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An easy way to learn the message of John 3:17 is with the catchy theme song for the Creative Festivals. Here you will find the lyrics and a link to the audio so that you can listen and learn it for yourself! http://www.antiochian.org/regulararticle/448

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“By the Cross, the Son of God having become man, accomplished our salvation…The Cross of the Lord was the instrument by which He saved the world after the fall into sin. Through the Cross, He descended with His soul into hell so as to raise up from it the souls who were awaiting Him.” ~ St. John Maximovitch

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Fr. Joseph Purpura explains the logo for the 2020 Creative Arts Festival theme: “The logo… depicts Christ healing a blind man — Christ is the Healer. Unlike others, Christ did not condemn the blind man for his affliction. Likewise, He did not condemn those who had fallen and sinned. Instead, He healed and restored them to a new life and a new opportunity. Once they were healed, Jesus then told them to change their lives and sin no more.”

creative festivals logo 2020

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“Think then what proofs of lovingkindness these are; by Grace to remit sins, and not to punish him who after grace has sinned and deserves punishment, but to give him a season and appointed space for his clearing. For all these reasons Christ said to Nicodemus, ‘God sent not His Son to condemn the world, but to save the world.’” ~ From St. John Chrysostom’s homilies on the Gospel of John, Homily 28

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“’For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.’

It is so simple a message that it is difficult to grasp.  In our weakness of mind it is hard to understand how God can love everyone; his enemies, unrepentant sinners and the righteous all the same.  We cannot bear to admit that God loves even those whom we cannot dream of loving. Even our enemies! The God we imagine into existence fits our notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, good and bad so much that he turns into a projection of our own minds, in other words, an idol.

As one Orthodox writer puts it (and I paraphrase), it is better to say that God does not exist than to project onto him our needs, desires and fantasies.”

So begins Fr. Antony Hughes’ sermon on John 3:17, preached at St. Mary Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA, on Sept. 13, 2009. Read the sermon in its entirety here: http://stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/sermons/2009/for-god-so-loved-the-world

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“Our whole understanding of what heaven and hell is, has been so distorted and abused by the teachings of the Western churches that it has even entered our Church and made us blind to the teachings of the Gospel and the teachings of the Church Fathers. Heaven is not up there, and hell is not down there. You want to know what hell is? Hell is an absence of God (whether it’s here on this earth or in the afterlife), and it is a turning away from God. You want to know who condemns us to hell? We condemn ourselves. To find yourself in hell is to turn your back on God, to reject God, to reject His mercy. There are people out there who are living in hell on this earth right now, and the sad thing is that they often don’t realise it. They love to blame society, those around them, even the Church, but the answers to their problems are inside of them! All they need to do is to discover God and His kingdom within them, and then will they realise what they’ve been missing all this time. God can’t condemn us to an eternity of misery. It’s just not in His nature. He can only love, but He can’t force you to love Him. If you choose to turn your back on God, turn your back on His unconditional love, then you will create your own hell.” ~ Nick Brown, “Sermon for the Sunday before the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross”, Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, Brisbane, QLD, Sept. 1999

Read the rest of the sermon here: http://www.orthodoxchristian.info/pages/beforecros.htm

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Gleanings from a Book: “The Cross and the Stag” by Gabriel Wilson

Author’s note: Because I happened to be in the right place at the right time, I was privileged to see a few spreads of this book more than a year before its publication. Although they were but sketches when I saw them, I was struck by their quality and the images gripped me. And my first reading of the (now full-color) book has confirmed what I suspected even then: this book is a treasure. 

“The Cross and the Stag” by Gabriel Wilson tells the true story of Placidas the soldier, who, amidst his worldly successes and earthly means, was lovingly faithful to his wife and sons, while also being very generous to those in need outside of his home. Perhaps you have never heard of Placidas the Soldier? He was given the name Eustathius at baptism. If you are not familiar with St. Eustathius, either, his story is one that you will do well to learn. There is much that each of us can learn from this saint: through his responses to both misfortunes and pleasant experiences, and through his faithfulness to God. Eustathius already had a good life when he first met Christ, and he served Our Lord fervently after his conversion.

Just like many saints who had gone on before him, Eustathius’ life did not continue to be “good” – well, at least by worldly standards. However, also like those saints, he remained faithful to Christ for his entire life. Like St. Paul, Eustathius had a powerful visitation from Christ which became a conversion experience for him and his household (although his wife had been mysteriously forewarned in a dream, so she was ready!). Like Righteous Job the Longsuffering, bit by bit Eustathius’ status, wealth, and finally even his family were taken from him. Like Righteous Joseph the Patriarch, his faithfulness in his work eventually brought Eustathius honor (and miraculously his loved ones were restored to him once again, as well). And finally, like the Three Holy Youths, the family faced a fiery entrapment with faith and grace.

Throughout the book, Gabriel Wilson has thoughtfully paired his images and text in a way which seamlessly tells the story while also allowing the reader to read between the lines when necessary. The illustrations are masterfully created, simultaneously communicating actions and emotions in a way that is both tasteful and effective. What a gift it is to have an artist of this caliber offer his work to the Orthodox Christian world in a way that makes a saint’s story so appealingly accessible to people of all ages!

Following St. Eustathius’ story in the book, readers will find the troparion and kontakion for St. Eustathius. There is also a spread featuring a variety of icons of him which have been written. The book concludes with a few historical notes from the author.

St. Eustathius’ story is gripping! I sat down to just begin the book but ended up reading the whole thing in one great gulp. Mystery, suspense, loss, love: all are found on the pages of this beautiful work of art. I know that I’ll read it again, and I suspect that I will not be the only one. There’s something here for everyone. St. Eustathius’ story and the lessons that his life teaches us will be treasured by each individual who reads this book.

To purchase a copy of this book, visit https://store.ancientfaith.com/the-cross-and-the-stag-the-incredible-adventures-of-st-eustathius/

Here are a few gleanings from the book (this time, we are sharing the  quotes in the context of their images), as well as additional information about St. Eustathius:

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On Sept. 20, we commemorate St. Eustathius and his family. Here is a short podcast about them: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/saintoftheday/sep_20_-_great_martyr_eustathius_placidas_and_his_family

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Find the story of St. Eustathius’ life, along with many icons which have been written to help us remember him, here: https://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/09/st-eustathius-eustace-placidas-great.html

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There’s even more of the story of St. Eustathius (including backstory of his family’s experiences) in this detailed description of his life: https://pravoslavie.ru/74099.html

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In the historical notes at the end of “The Cross and the Stag,” we read that “St. Eustathius is the patron saint of hunters, firefighters, and those who face adversity.” Author Gabriel Wilson also notes that people request St. Eustathius’ prayers when they’re traveling over rivers and seas. Readers facing adverse times (or traveling, hunting, or firefighting) may be glad to learn this, and ask for his prayers.

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Gleanings from a Book: “Anthony, the Great” by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka

Just because Anthony is only “four fingers old” doesn’t keep him from helping his family members to keep perspective on their challenges. However, being four has trials of its own, and being a four-year-old who is also an Orthodox Christian affords additional unique tests. But Anthony is ready to meet his challenges! He faces them well with the help of his sidekick Mikey (who happens to be a stuffed dinosaur) and of his patron saint, St. Anthony the Great.

In “Anthony, the Great”, Deacon John Sarantakis offers the tale of a young boy struggling to struggle. The book begins with Anthony reminding everyone that whatever they’re going through is not as big as a dinosaur. Readers of all ages can relate to some part of Anthony’s personality: whether to his love for dinosaurs, his desire for adventure, or his determination to be right. They will be challenged by Anthony’s longing to emulate his patron saint; even when everyone – right down to his favorite stuffed toy – does not do things exactly how he wishes they would be done. Throughout his challenges, Anthony faithfully struggles, as did his patron saint. Each time he does so, love and warmth well up in the heart of the person Anthony has blessed by his struggle. By the end of the book, Anthony discovers something BIGGER than a dinosaur, which is really something to realize!

Misha Pjawka’s watercolor, gouache, and pencil on hot pressed paper illustrations interact with the text in a beautiful dance of playfulness and color, charmingly collaborating to enhance the tale. There’s a degree of transparency to the illustrations that effectively communicates the storyline while also speaking to the state of Anthony’s soul: he clearly longs to do what is right. The book offers its readers an unclouded look at his struggle, both through the text and illustrations. (Side note: both young readers and the young at heart will especially enjoy watching Mikey throughout the book, as he wholeheartedly embraces Anthony’s experiences and adds a touch of humor with his take on them.)

The book ends with a brief overview of the life of St. Anthony. It tells some of his story, and includes his icon. There’s just enough of his story there to help the reader appreciate Anthony’s desire to emulate his patron saint, and perhaps to whet their appetite to learn more about this holy saint who is sometimes called the “father of monasticism.”

I can’t help wishing that Anthony were a real boy. I know that I would enjoy hanging out with him and Mikey, and learning how to emulate St. Anthony the Great by interacting with them. Although he is a fictional character, at least I can enter into Anthony’s life for a moment and be challenged by his struggle to struggle, every time I read “Anthony, the Great”.

 

Purchase your own copy of “Anthony, the Great” here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/anthony-the-great/

Here are a few gleanings from the book, as well as some suggestions of ways to engage your family and encourage learning through it:

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“No matter what the day may bring, Papa and Mama often take time to remind Anthony what it means to be an Orthodox Christian.” (p. 10, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Each time you read this part of the book, allow this phrase to spark a question in your own mind: How are you doing with this? Are you  regularly reminding your child(ren) what it means to be an Orthodox Christian? Perhaps every morning you pray the prayer that includes this phrase, “Whatsoever tidings I may receive during the day, teach me to accept them calmly, in the firm conviction that all eventualities fulfil Thy holy will…”, but are you teaching your children by example, and showing them how that plays out? Are you doing this especially on the days that things do not go the way that you wish or ”need” them to go? (Find the prayer in its entirety here: http://www.stgeorgeofboston.org/ourfaith/prayers/morningprayer)

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“‘We strive to love God more than anything else,’ says Mama. ‘Sometimes that means not getting or doing what we want. That can be hard. Even so, we struggle to put others before ourselves.’”  (p. 10, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Talk together about how hard it is to love God more than anything else. What choices does your family make that demonstrate this great love for God? Is it ever hard, like Mama said? Are you struggling to put others before yourselves? How is that working out? If you find yourself lacking in this area, you may want to read this article for encouragement and practical help: http://www.stgeorgegreenville.org/our-faith/tenpointprogram/putting-others-first

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“His patron saint, St. Anthony the Great, had to struggle. A lot… Anthony quietly prayed that he might be more like this great saint of God.” (p. 13, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Do your children know a lot about their patron saint? The more they know about their saint, the better they will be able to emulate them and the more likely they will feel close enough to their patron saint to ask for their prayers. Find ways to help your child(ren) learn even more about their saint. Encourage them to pray that they will become more like their saint. Here is a blog post suggesting ways to teach your children about the saints: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/teaching-your-children-about-the-saints/

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“Papa says temptations are chances to show our love for God.” (p. 16, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Multiple times each day, we pray that God will lead us not into temptation, yet we constantly find ourselves being tempted. Anthony’s statement about what his papa says can help us to wrap our minds around why we are tempted. Find some resources that will help you think about temptations (in the context of the Lord’s Prayer) here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/on-the-lords-prayer-and-lead-us-not-into-temptation/

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“…He was struggling to struggle. He wanted what he wanted when he wanted it, and he wanted to do what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it! Even so, Anthony, remembering his prayer, decided to act like his saint…” (p. 25, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Struggle is an important – and necessary – part of our Orthodox Christian life. Read what the scriptures and the Church fathers have to say about it here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2018/07/25/on-struggle/

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“‘My sweet boy, because you struggled against what you wanted, you helped your family. I’m proud of you. When we do these things, we imitate Christ’s sacrifice and love for us. A love that is bigger and greater than anything else in the world.’” ~ Anthony’s Papa (p. 27, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Invite family members to share times when they have seen another family member sacrifice themselves or their desire for someone else. How did it make them feel to see that happen? Can anyone tell about a time that they did not sacrifice themselves or their own desire, but they wish they had? How would the experience have been different, if they had done so? This article will encourage you to continue to love more and more selflessly: http://myocn.net/selfless-nature-love/

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Lenten Sundays Series: The Sunday of St. Gregory of Palamas

This is the fourth in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share a little about that week’s focus, including related quotes from Church fathers and/or scriptures that can be helpful to our spiritual growth. We will share each blog early, to give you time to read it before that particular Sunday arrives. It is our hope that, by taking a few minutes to study these Sundays before the day arrives, we will be better prepared to partake in all that the Church has to offer us through this beautiful season of the year.

On this second Sunday of Great Lent, we commemorate St. Gregory of Palamas’ successful defense of the Orthodox belief that humans can both know and experience God. He asserted that we can know with our minds that God exists, and we can also experience Him through His uncreated energies. This flew in the face of the teachings of Barlaam, a critic of St. Gregory’s and of hesychasm in general.

St. Gregory was born in 1296 to a prominent family in Constantinople. His father died when Gregory was still young. The youth was so bright and hardworking that the emperor himself took interest in Gregory, helping to raise and educate him in the hopes that he would one day hold a high government position.

But Gregory left all of the glamor of Constantinople’s elite behind when he departed for Mount Athos at age 20 to become a monk. (And he was not the only member of his family to do this. Shortly thereafter, His mother and sisters also became monastics.) As a monk on Mt. Athos, Gregory learned about “Hesychasm,” a very calm, still way to pray. He mastered this prayer of the heart, and thus we know him as a “hesychast.”

In 1326, Gregory went to Thessalonica and was ordained to the priesthood. He lived the life of a hermit on weekdays, silently praying alone and away from the world. On the weekends, he would celebrate the holy services in his parish and he would preach so beautifully that his sermons brought his listeners to tears.

When Barlaam, a bright and studious monk, came to Mt. Athos and heard about hesychasm, he proclaimed it to be heresy. He insisted that it is not possible for humans to know God’s essence or to experience His energies such as uncreated light. His dissent caused quite a stir, and Gregory was called to debate with Barlaam about this. Gregory’s studies in the world and his experience as a hesychast put him in the perfect position for this debate.

Gregory first tried to speak to Barlaam about all of this, but speaking did not seem to make any progress, so he began to write prolifically about the prayer of the heart and its validity. Although Gregory was writing a lot, they continued to meet and debate in person as well. One of these debates was before the 1341 Council of Constantinople, which took place in Hagia Sophia. This time, they were arguing about the Transfiguration. Gregory stood by the Orthodox belief that God revealed Himself to the disciples on Mt. Tabor, by using His Divine Energies. Barlaam said theirs was not an actual experience of God: just a helpful gift to the disciples, who couldn’t really experience God because they are humans.

The members of the Council upheld Gregory’s position as the truly Orthodox position. They agreed that God, Whose Essence we cannot approach, chooses to reveal Himself through His Energies. Humans can see those Energies, such as the light that the disciples could see on Mt. Tabor. After the Council ruled that Barlaam’s teachings were heresy, Barlaam fled to Calabria.

In spite of the ruling, some people still argued against Gregory, even locking him up in prison for 4 years at one point. However, the very next patriarch released him and made him Archbishop of Thessalonica. In his later years, God gave Gregory the gift to perform miracles, including healing the sick, and he was granted a vision of St. John Chrysostom on the night before he died. His last words were, “To the heights! To the heights!”

Thanks to St. Gregory Palamas, the Church has maintained the truth that we humans are able to experience God through His uncreated energies. St. Gregory’s life of dedication to God and His Church, as well as his willingness to stand for truth set him apart as a wonderful example to all of us. Sometimes people refer to the Sunday of St. Gregory of Palamas as “The Sunday of Orthodoxy Part Two”, since his defense saved the Orthodox Church when it was under a second major attack.

The Gospel reading for this second Sunday of Lent is the story of the paralytic whose four friends lowered him through the roof of the place where Christ was so that he could be healed by Him. Our Lord not only healed his legs, making him able to walk again, but also healed his sins, telling him, “Your sins are forgiven you.” How beautiful it is for us to be reminded, right here near the beginning of Great Lent that the truth of our Faith is worth standing up for, as did St. Gregory; at the same time receiving the reassurance that Christ is waiting for us to come to Him so that He can heal both our soul and our body.

St. Gregory of Palamas, please intercede for us and for our salvation.

 

Here are a few quotes from St. Gregory of Palamas for you to ponder throughout the week, as well as a few links that you may find helpful as you learn more about him as a family:

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“Let not one think, my fellow Christian, that only priests and monks need to pray without ceasing and not laymen No, no; every Christian without exception ought to dwell always in prayer.” ~ St. Gregory of Palamas

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“For our love for God is demonstrated above all by the way we endure trials and temptations.” ~ St. Gregory of Palamas

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“It is pointless for someone to say that he has faith in God if he does not have the works which go with faith. What benefit were their lamps to the foolish virgins who had no oil (Mt. 25:1-13), namely, deeds of love and compassion?” ~ St. Gregory of Palamas

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“If from one burning lamp someone lights another, then another from that one, and so on in succession, he has light continuously. In the same way, through the Apostles ordaining their successors, and these successors ordaining others, and so on, the grace of the Holy Spirit is handed down through all generations and enlightens all who obey their shepherds and teachers.” ~ St. Gregory of Palamas

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“… Adam chose the treason of the serpent, the originator of evil, in preference to God’s commandment and counsel, and broke the decreed fast. Instead of eternal life he received death and instead of the place of unsullied joy he received this sinful place full of passions and misfortunes, or rather, he was sentenced to Hades and nether darkness. Our nature would have stayed in the infernal regions below the lurking places of the serpent who initially beguiled it, had not Christ come. He started off by fasting (cf. Mk. 1:13) and in the end abolished the serpent’s tyranny, set us free and brought us back to life.” ~ St. Gregory of Palamas

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Find a few suggested ways to help your family learn about St. Gregory of Palamas here: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/3-5-years-old/gregory-palamas

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“We can think of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and obedience as the four friends that help us come before Christ and be healed.” Read the article about the Sunday of St. Gregory of Palamas that ends this way, and find ideas of ways to learn about/ discuss its themes here: https://www.goarch.org/documents/32058/2618758/familygospellesson_gregory.pdf/fcd465fc-bc96-4161-b062-9172d6271629

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Woven: An Interactive Book for the Modern Teenage Girl on Orthodox Christianity” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas

“Woven: An Interactive Book for the Modern Teenage Girl on Orthodox Christianity” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas is so much more than just a book! It is a journal that walks an Orthodox girl through many of the challenges she will meet in her teen years. It is also the centerpiece of an experience that a group of young Orthodox girls can share, to help them grow both individually and together. The heart of the book is to help Orthodox teen girls to embrace the reality that they are created by God and have been woven together on purpose, so that they can accept and share the love of God.

“Woven” is a beautiful book in so many ways. It is physically attractive, with page-by-page colorful accents which tie the chapters together. The illustrations sprinkled throughout the book are contemporary and tasteful. Even the text is eye catching: some phrases or quotes are in different fonts or colors, engaging the reader and encouraging thought. There is also a delightful balance between information, scripture, story, and creative response opportunities throughout the book. Readers of varying learning styles will resonate with different parts of this book.

Each chapter has a different focus. The chapters are set up to be experienced in order, in 6 chapter-sessions. The first focuses on helping each young woman find her identity in the truth that she is created to become like God, and that she is living her identity when she participates in His grace through the spiritual gifts He has given to her. The second looks at emotions and how to better understand what her emotions are telling her, so she can react in healthy, non-destructive ways. The third focuses on helping young women work towards being authentic in their self-understanding. Instead of trying to present a “perfect” self (conveyed by how she dresses or what she posts on social media), she is encouraged to know that God created her to be a joy, and that embracing this knowledge can help her to truly be a delight. The fourth encourages developing healthy friendships with other girls. It looks at behaviors that can harm those friendships, and suggests ways she can change her habits and break harmful cycles so those friendships can grow. The fifth looks at love and romance, encouraging the young women to step back and look at the world’s views on each, and to embrace the healthier ways to look at these topics which the Church has offered for centuries. The sixth chapter is a review of the book, offering once more the truth of God’s love and acceptance of each reader. It also offers space and time for reviewing each chapter to see what she has gleaned from the book as a whole.

While it is intended to be completed in a small group context (like an extended Sunday School class or a girls-only SOYO/GOYA small group), with a few adjustments a mom could guide her daughter(s) or a godmother could work through the book with her goddaughter(s). The free, downloadable discussion guide adds value to the book. There are a few parts of the book which will not make sense without it. The guide contains additional links, as well as a suggested movie to watch after each chapter/session. This book would make a wonderful series of monthly retreats for young girls in a parish!

We highly recommend “Woven.” It is an invaluable learning tool for the young women of the Church. The insights the girls will gain as individuals, the bonding they’ll experience with fellow Orthodox Christians, and the wisdom they’ll glean from their leader(s) are all of a value far beyond the small expenses of time and money required to provide this opportunity. We hope that many parishes will invest in their young women, weaving love into their hearts through this book and the experiences it affords.

Purchase “Woven” here: https://www.woveninhislove.org/book/

Discussion leaders (Sunday Church School teachers, SOYO/GOYA leaders, small group leaders, and/or moms) can download a free (and indispensable) facilitators’ guide here: https://www.woveninhislove.org/facilitators-corner/

 

Here are some gleanings from the book:

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woven in his image

“We are a mystery, even to ourselves, but in the next few weeks, we will hope to unravel part of that mystery by discovering more about how God has lovingly woven us so beautifully in His image.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 18)

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“We are each created with a purpose, not just in the broad sense of all people are created in God’s image, but in a deeply personal sense of: ‘God created me because he wants someone like me in the world.’” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 28)

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“No matter how bad you feel, no matter how bad things seem, please remember two important things:

  1. There is always something you can do to make things better. It may be really small or it may be really hard, but there is always something that can be done.
  2. God never bails on you! He never leaves you in the dust. You can turn anything over to Him.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 53)

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“Sometimes we feel like we have to change too much of ourselves in order to fit in and have friends. It’s one thing to modify some outward behaviors or change your appearance to fit it; it’s another to adapt so much to the crowd that you lose yourself… The problem comes when we try to be somebody else because we think people won’t like us.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 97)

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“Can you imagine the relief Mary found in her friend, Elizabeth? In Elizabeth, Mary found love, assurance, support, encouragement, and a sisterly confirmation of their faith in the Lord. How amazing of a friend is that? …We are called to be a friend like Elizabeth—a blessing to others, a friend who brings peace and love to her friends’ minds, and helps them see blessings and hope as they face their fears, insecurities, secrets, and burdens.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 119)

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Woven illustration“Something that is very hard to understand is that people love you, but the unconditional, filling love we are looking for can only be given to us by the Lord. Only God can fill that lonely void that hurts so badly sometimes. God always accepts you. He always loves you; there is no rejection from the Lord.
He chooses YOU every day.
He thinks you are so worthy of love He sent His only child to die for you. He doesn’t wish you were prettier, smarter, or more athletic… He loves you exactly as you are; He created you because He wanted someone like you in the world.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 141)

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“We all want happiness here on earth, and sometimes we have that, but the heart of life is not what we get here, it’s who we are becoming in the light of eternity along the way. We are woven in His love and He understands us—God understands our complex emotions, our hearts and minds, the innermost needs that confuse even us. He loves us even when we’re a hot mess.” (“Woven,” by Edna King and Zoë Pappas, p. 158)

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Ps 139 Woven